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Nick

Why cars, or more specifically driving? Well you’re here so you must have more than a passing interest. For me it borders on the obsessive and I think it can be summed up with one word...freedom. Just like Henry Ford envisaged when he conceived the model-T, the car has brought me freedom and driving is the one thing I know I am good at.

My first memories are driving related, sitting in our Mk1 Cortina driving to Spain (1967) and running over a big snake. Growing up the most exciting thing for me was dad getting a new car and wanting to go for that first drive, the new car smell that is still one of the best smells in the world. The second was going on Sunday once a month to the local newsagent to buy a Matchbox Car. Yes 1000s of other kids had the same experience, possibly not the snake bit I admit, but then why did this kid grow up with a burning passion for driving and cars?

Dad was in the automotive supply business, not the boring mundane supply of parts, but on the R&D side. Being based in the Midlands made sure we were in the thick of it. I say we because my dad used to talk through what was happening at Rover, Triumph, Jaguar & Land Rover et al and I used to give him my 10penth worth (this was before 71 so pre-decimalisation). He would bring home drawings of parts for the latest cars and if I was lucky I was allowed to go to see the body stacks (an engineering version of a clay model) in the top secret part of his factory. As the cars progressed through the development he used to bring prototypes home for a shake down and this kid was in heaven riding in cars that weren’t even in the showrooms yet. We went to the launches, visited the factories to see them being made and had rides in all the latest cars. My mates at school where into football, me I played (poorly) but no, it was cars that made me tick.

Dad changed his car every 18 months and the first real ’drivers’ car he had was a Mk1 Capri 1600 GT XLR. It was gold, but due to an accident at the garage didn’t come with the matt black bonnet. Boy did I think we had arrived. The Capri was one of the coolest cars on the road at the time and ours, apart from the 3.1 Litre RS, was the coolest car in the range. My dad loved that car and he loved to drive it hard. It didn’t stay standard for long though. Thanks to his contacts at Ford it acquired a handling kit, wider ’Ros-style’ Wheels and mild engine tune.

My Dad got a promotion and had a Triumph 2.5PI, then a Rover P6 3500S. It should have been a Stag but there wasn’t enough room for three kids and a Standard Poodle so the Stag went. The Rover was tuned to the same state as the Police Traffic cars and made the most fantastic V8 roar. I can remember him being very pleased with himself for knocking 5 minutes off the trip home because it was so quick. Another PI followed and then more Rovers SD1’s. As I grew older he would let me drive the cars on the beach, private roads and, when the first DIY store opened, on their huge car park. When driving he would always tell me what he was doing and why, how to control a slide, how to overtake and how to drive on the motorway.

Then there was the annual trip to the RAC Rally in Sutton Park. Oh the excitement...traipsing for miles on a cold November day to get there early to make sure we had a good spot. Flask of tea, butties in foil and your copy of the entry list. The tension built as the course car came through, then on the wind came the first notes of a rally car on full cry, whistle blast and then they were there, Escorts, Saabs, Fiats driven by Gods, some with unpronounceable Scandinavian names but the greatest of them all was Roger Clark...he was my hero. Sliding that car round the corners, the wheels scrabbling for grip, I knew then that’s what I wanted to be...I wanted to be a great driver. I wanted to be a driver who could do that. Some of my favourite cars are still based upon on those cold November memories, Mk1 & Mk2 Escorts, Fiat 131 Abarth, Lancia Fulvia, Lotus Sunbeams, Audi Quattros and of course, the greatest of them all, the Stratos.

Now as I’ve said, dad had a few contacts in the industry, but the best of all was a guy called Mike Loseby. His title, it just gives me a thrill to type it, Director Of Engineering Aston Martin! WOW! I was 14 years old when one Saturday morning we went to see Mike at his home. Dad needed to talk through issues with him concerning the development of a new High Performance ranger topper. After the business meeting Mike showed us round his garage (Alfa and a supercharged Mini Cooper if your asking) then he lead us outside to the top of the garden to a carport and there it stood, in metallic green, an Aston. I now know it as the William Towns designed car but then it was just the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. It was a left hooker and Mike explained it was the development car for the new V8 Vantage. It flew. We saw 140 on the straight and the noise, oh the noise, it was like thunder, it bellowed and snarled but the best bit was the cornering. 100mph through the S Bends, flat and stiff, jinking down the tarmac. The countryside was just a green smear along the glass. The trips to see Mike were always special. I didn’t always get a ride in an Aston but he loved to talk cars, engineering and driving.

As I got older and the other kids were getting Shoot Magazine or Roy Of the Rovers, I was spending my pocket money on Car Magazine reading about which super car was the best, which cars handled and which cars didn’t. I loved the stories about epic road journeys and the tests of classic driving cars, driving them for driving’s sake. Those journalist inspired me to want to be a good driver, Mel Nicolas, Ian Frazer, Chris Havey, Steve Cropley and of course Russell Bulgin...he was a hero in print.

Another big moment on my path to why I am obsessed happened at 16. I got to drive a Rally Cross Mini, a 1380 Cooper, Straight cut box, LSD. This belonged to two of dad’s friends from Rover, Bill & Andy. Not only was it the fastest thing I had ever driven but I was in it on my own on an airfield. What would you do? Exactly...I floored it. ’kin’ell, it went, and it went where the wheels were pointing and did it all very quickly. Thing was, I could handle it and the people there were all rather impressed, but not as much as me. You see, I was crap at school, struggled academically (turned out I was dyslexic not thick), average at sport, not that popular with the girls but I’d found something I was good at and it came easy.

When I got my provisional licence I couldn’t wait to get started but I was working in a shop and the money was, to say the least, poor so I could only afford one lesson a week and although Mom & Dad took me out in the Mini I needed the formal instruction to learn how to pass the test. My instructor, Margaret, was great. Her Nissan Sunny was not. On my first lesson I did a hill start and three point turn, second lesson the back end slid wide on the gravel of a newly dressed road and I caught it, she was very impressed but was concerned that I already had too many bad habits. Sure enough I failed my first test, looking back I was too confident, I didn’t wait for another motorist at a junction - he hesitated, I didn’t and after I had bounced the examiner off the dash with a very good emergency stop he was just looking for an excuse. ”I’ve been driving since I was twelve“ I told him , ”it shows“ was the only reply. Gutted doesn’t come close. I booked my retest ASAP, drove terribly and passed!

The the biggest single influence on why I drive the way I do is down to Mike from Aston Martin. He made me promise that I would never be an A to B driver and that even if I have to drive for my job I should always try to make it fun and enjoy it. Well I do a lot of miles in my job so some days its difficult to fulfill that promise, stuck on the M1 or M25, surrounded by bored drivers, many who don’t care about driving...to them its just a chore. But I try and make up for it with those great moments, the moments I live for, an empty stretch of moorland road that snakes off into the distance, a deserted mountain pass climbing ahead or vacant roundabout just begging to be attacked. Go on. Nail that braking zone. Kiss that apex. Feed that power in to perfection and feel those corners flow. It’s not about speed, its about how it feels. It can be just as satisfying getting it right in the Ford Ka you hire at the airport as it is in the DB9 your mate lends you. Nothing gives me more pleasure than a great drive and knowing every day I am learning and improving. Enjoy it whilst you can before the mean of spirit turn it into the anodyne soulless experience that they think driving is.

Nick.

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