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Thread: F328NVL - 355 Spider

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    Default F328NVL - 355 Spider

    From 8 to 12, From back to front

    November 2005 saw the departure of F328 NVL – The 1989 328GTS inappropriately named by my then 5 year old daughter “Neville”- bloody silly name for a great car. I’d had it for 2 ½ years and covered some 5000 miles. I’d first bought a model 308 in 1979, aged 14, on holiday in Italy and I’d finally had a real one (albeit a later incarnation). It was a thing of extraordinary beauty. Curvaceous and harmonious, a design that epitomised what Italian sports cars are all about: Posing.

    OK it wasn’t particularly fast: It has around 275 bhp and weighs about 1.5 tonnes. The only way I could see it doing it’s reputed top speed of 165mph is if you threw it off a cliff. The driving position was obviously designed for a Chimpanzee: Long arms and short legs. Maybe interior development began prior to the later stages of hominid evolution; the air-con certainly looked like it. It froze your left knee whilst failing to alter the temperature of any other part of the cabin appreciably. The steering is, of course, unassisted and in consequence I did painfully pull a neck muscle trying to park outside a Fish & Chip shop whilst watched by a bemused group of adolescents. They loved the car, but couldn’t understand why it took quite so long to reverse it into a small parking space. The youth of today, don’t know what a 23 point turn is. My daughter thought it wasn’t “cosy” enough – this may have been due to the fact that the roof was rarely on, even in mid-winter- However she also thinks a Porsche Cayenne is a good car because it is silver, high-up and has cool child seats and so her view can probably be discounted.

    On the upside: I loved driving it, 99% of the people on the roads were courteous and friendly and you could park it pretty much anywhere without any particular worries. It handled like a proper car with proper car bits. It didn’t much like snow, but then fat tyres don’t really work no matter what car they’re on. Other than that it was a joy. People would start conversations whilst sitting at traffic lights and more than one enthusiastic fan cornered me for a chat about the relative merits of obscure Italian cars in Sainsbury’s car park.

    I spent a fortune on it, partly because I wanted to, partly because I had to. It cost me £35k to buy, I spent £12k on looking after it, including reconditioning the engine at a cost of £8k, and when it left, I part exchanged it for £28k. A total cost of £19k over 2 ½ years – To be honest I couldn’t have spent much more if I’d tried, it was cosseted. If you see it out there looking for a new home, do let me know, I might even buy it back myself, I miss it.

    It has been replaced by a Silver 550 Maranello that, as yet, has no name. Despite unsuccessfully trying to buy the plate F550 GTM, it currently goes by the name “The evil car” but that’s for another instalment.
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    Default From 8 to 12, From back to front - Part 2

    From 8 to 12, From back to front - Part 2

    How to Decide Which Ferrari to Buy

    Only Michael Schumacher has an urgent practical need to get a new Ferrari for his job, the rest of us buy them for emotional reasons.

    In the past the gap between “Super cars” and other lesser vehicles was much greater than it is today: Nobody’s dad at my school had a car that could even approach the 300kmh promised by a 512 bb in the 1970s Top Trumps.

    Well to be honest that’s not strictly true, because there was a chap whose dad actually had a 512bb for about 6 months before he realised it was utterly impractical and reverted to a normal car to save his marriage. This was made even more bizarre by the fact that I went to a comprehensive school in Birmingham where Ferrari’s were as common as European Championships at Chelsea FC.

    Today every lad whose dad has a big German car is “limited” to 250kmh. If I was 14 and my dad had an M5 or an RS4, I would definitely claim play ground parity with a Ferrari top end if it was derestricted: It’s close enough to plausible for a good argument. This raises the question of whether or not there is a modern German version of Top Trumps where all the cars do 250kmh and all the bikes are 100 bhp. It would go on for ever!

    Anyway, the point is that there is no need to own one and therefore you cannot write down a list of practical problems the solution to which is “Buy a Ferrari”.

    So having leaped past the question of “Should I buy a Ferrari?” how do you decide which one to buy? Clearly there are practical considerations, the primary one of which is: How much money have I got to spend on a car? Having figured out that, there’s the question of how many other cars, if any, you own that can do the practical things that many Ferraris can’t such as: Transport more than one other person; Be an economical run-around; Leave it at the station if you commute; transport anything bigger than the mythical set of golf clubs etc.

    Most people who buy a Ferrari seem to have more than one car. In my case I also have an Aston Martin. However only James Bond has an urgent practical need to get a new Aston Martin! My criteria were therefore the following:

    1. Cost: my 328 plus about £30k (Say £55-65k)
    2. Need a boot: I don’t play golf, but I do go to Sainsbury;
    3. As George Orwell put it so succinctly: “2 seats good, four seats bad”;
    4. Some degree of Rarity

    The 360 failed on two counts: No boot and too many of them and it is a bit of a chubber in my view.

    The 355 I love, but where does the shopping go? and why are the spiders so un-necessarily over designed? What’s all that seat shuffling about when the roof goes up and down? It’s just something to go wrong.

    The 348: Sorry but who needs a cheese grater that does 175mph?

    The 512s: a 200 mph cheese grater with 1980s associations with shoulder pads and new romantics. I know it prejudice, it’s an age thing. To me it is like Joan Collins: I didn’t fancy her in the 1980s, and I certainly don’t fancy her now.

    That left the 575, too expensive, 456 too many seats so too much depreciation and the 550.

    Note that this was a process of elimination, unlike when I bought my 328 (or indeed my Aston). Then I wanted a 308/328 and had about £35k, so I did my research then went out and bought one. Now I was looking for a Ferrari 550 Maranello because of some apparently rational decision tree. It’s amazing how the human mind can rationalise the most emotional of things if it tries.

    Next step: The search for “The Evil Car”

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    Default Identifying the Right Car for You

    Looking for a Ferrari is not like looking for most other cars. If you type “BMW” into Auto Trader two things will happen: Firstly you’ll feel a little sad and lonely, secondly you will find that there are approximately 200 BMWs for sale actually in your street. This means that buying a BMW is a costly and time consuming thing to do. You’ve got to go out and look at several thousand cars before you find the one that’s the best combination available.

    Buying a Ferrari 550 is much cheaper and easier. You type Ferrari 550 into Auto Trader (or Top Marques – same thing, but more cache if your work mate’s looking over your shoulder) and see how many cars pop up. Unless you live in Central London (or Egham) chances are there are none within 1 mile of your house. So you expand your search to a reasonable area, say 30 miles. Now you have a choice of around 10-12 cars, a manageable number to start work on.

    Next you need to set your parameters. There is a disagreement amongst the cognoscenti about the appropriate colour for a big Ferrari. Those who are buying their first Ferrari always want a Red one, regardless of the model. However, it is in fact a mistake to paint front engined V12 GT Ferraris Red: As Enzo Ferrari memorably put it, “you can have any colour as long as it’s not another ******* Red one” (In Italian obviously, he didn’t speak English much). So, once you have eliminated those that are not in your favourite external colour, you need to think about the interior. There are really only two acceptable colours: Black or Tan. However, fearing damage to Ferrari sales in the important Irish market, Ferrari also supply cream (see above re:Red) and “Axe man in a Butcher’s shop” aka Bordeaux. (I will discount the blue ones at this point – they are a specialist market in the same way that nipple piercing is).

    Black and Tan are photogenic colours (unless you are were an Irish Catholic in the 1920s, but then there were largely only black and white cameras) so they sell more easily. Bordeaux appears garish in photographs and so may put you off. In reality, unless you have eyes in your backside, you don’t really see what you are sitting on so you shouldn’t worry too much.

    Anyway, you have now whittled down the 12 cars near to you to probably about 5/7. Next do your spreadsheet. This is a key negotiating tool. You need to go across the web and find all 550s (or whatever) and list them by age, mileage, colour, number of owners and of course price. It takes an afternoon or so, but by the end you’ll really have an idea what the screen prices are like across all the cars in the UK. Make sure you go through the Ferrari owners’ club site to check what the non-trade prices are like. I found a total of 43 cars when I was looking for mine.

    As I have a degree in Economics and Econometrics (and am a bit sad) I calculated the almost completely spurious statistic that Ferrari 550s can on average attribute about 42% of their change in value to the mileage they have covered – perhaps a little bit anal, but there is a slight possibility it might be handy later when arguing with a car salesman who may not be able to interpret R Squared statistics on a linear regression of price against mileage.

    Now plot all your cars on a graph and circle the ones that look interesting and off you go to get a test drive.

    See diagram 1

    Make sure that you phone ahead and tell the dealer that you are coming and want to drive the car. If you want to do a deal that day, check that the car actually belongs to the dealer and not a customer and ask about the paperwork and history in detail: It frustrating to drive to a dealer only to find he needs to phone the owner who’s not in so he’s not sure whether or not he can do a deal; Similarly “full service history” covers a multitude of sins.

    There’s nothing more annoying than travelling all the way to Graypaul in Nottingham, after you’ve been at a meeting just outside Sheffield, on a Wednesday in November, when Radio 5 are warning about bad traffic on the M1, only to stand about for 45 minutes whilst the salesman chats to someone who very probably hadn’t called earlier in the day asking about the silver Y reg 550 and saying they’d try and get there for 4:30pm for a test drive.

    I’d suggest trying to go in something with a bit of power as well. It’s not that salesmen won’t let you drive a car if you turn up in a Fiesta, it’s just that it almost doesn’t matter how clapped out a 550 is, if you get out of a standard road car, it’ll feel fantastic. In contrast I got out of a Vanquish that I’d borrowed on one occasion and knew as soon as I got into the 550 that something was wrong: The Vanquish did have handling problems, it wasn’t my driving.

    Things to look for:
    Hand brake release: They are all crap, some more than others. They get strained by people who haul on them.
    Open the bonnet: The first place to rust on a 550/575 is the underside of the bonnet on the very front lip. Second is the boot lip.
    Check the all recalls have been done. There are two ways to tell: Either call Ferrari UK with the chassis number or fathom out the complicated system of coloured dots on various hoses. I recommend the former. The most expensive recall is the steering rack – could cost a couple of grand if it’s not been done already.
    Clutches are expensive and they wear out at tremendously different rates depending on driving style. A low mileage car can easily burn out the clutch is the driver’s got a heavy right foot and a wobbly left one.
    Check the tyres – if they’re not new get the vendor to put new ones on.
    Always express surprise that the internal metal door handles and ashtray get tatty and scratched – it’s easy negotiating stuff.

    Once you’ve looked around it’s time to look at the paperwork. I am utterly ruthless on cars histories. If they don’t have every single thing in perfect order it’s a massive negotiation point and probably a deal breaker. In reality having a file of paperwork just shows that they didn’t submit them as expense/tax claims, but you can get so much mileage out an incomplete file you have to do it. Get it all photocopied and read it. I once almost bought a V8 Vantage from the most reputable dealer in Britain until I found that history file contained invoices for a front-end rebuild following a head-on crash (it’s still for sale).

    Next plot the data and understand the car’s history

    See diagram 2

    How did it go about getting its mileage? Has it stood around or been used? How long has it been on the dealer’s forecourt?

    Now you can whip out your analysis of the market and get negotiating. Remember to get everything you want: Price, service, new tyres, warranty, any minor modifications and fixes and get it in writing. Then it’s all over. You put your pen to paper and hand over the deposit. As you drive away you know that in a week’s time you’ll be the proud owner of a mighty Ferrari V12 GT .

    Next .. First Impressions of an Evil Car
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    Default First Impressions of an Evil Car

    First Impressions of an Evil Car

    550s are big cars that accommodate only two passengers, so you might expect that there would be lots of room in them. In one sense you’d be right: Tall or fat you can get in a 550 and drive it. However, the thing that strikes you pretty quickly is that, despite all the headroom and leg room, there’s actually nowhere to put anything. Unlike any car I know bar a Noble, the 550 is almost bereft of places to put small bits and pieces. There’s a nice big pocket in the door, but the doors are very long and the car’s very powerful – the end result is that everything ends up at the rear-end of the pocket, which is almost out of reach. There’s a funny string bag thing in the middle of the seats: It looks a bit like a bag for citrus fruits, but can’t be, since under New Labour eating Citrus fruits whilst driving is an offence. There’s room behind the drivers seat for a few bits, but this car has fearsome brakes and all the crap you put there can come flying under the seat into the foot-well under hard braking. So the second thing to hit you about a 550 could well be your own luggage.

    You therefore put most things in the boot. The boot has two deeply irritating features: Firstly, you can only open it from inside the car. There’s a little toggle switch on the dashboard (passenger side in a RHD car). Secondly when it rains, the water on the boot lid goes straight into the boot itself when you open it. Why they can’t put the boot release on the remote control, like on an expensive car like, say, a Nissan Micra, is a mystery. The boot is a proper sensible size affair plenty big enough to carry the corpse of a dismembered golfer or some shopping.

    So, having stowed your luggage, it’s time to play with bits Ferrari are really, really good at: The engine and stuff. You should never touch anything in the car before starting a Ferrari V12. If it doesn’t start with you standing outside the car and just turning the key, it is broken. If you pump the throttle you’ll flood it or over rev it when it’s cold. They really don’t like that at all. They need to be treated properly if they are going to last, and that, crucially, includes warming the engine up properly.

    Once you’ve started the engine you may notice that the oil pressure soars – this is normal. It will run at 100 lbs plus on idle whilst cold. Once it has warmed through and the viscosity has fallen, you’ll see the engine pressure drop steadily to 70 lbs. Only when it gets down there can you start to explore the power curve.

    The car will have somewhere north of 480 horsepower; the exact number varies depending on all sorts of things. The tyres can cope with all of that power if they are both warm and dry. If the road is wet or the tyres cold, then they cannot cope and you will learn about the ASR light. The traction control (ASR) is set for adults. Unlike, say, a BMW M5 that will nanny you continuously, the 550 is set to allow you know that you have a problem, before Houston intervenes and resets your throttle for you. In essence the safety stuff on the 550 is like an ultra-thin warm-feel condom, there’s plenty of feel, compared to the BMW’s spermicidal coated Wellington boot.

    On a good “GT road”, this is one of the great cars in the world. If you need to travel at high speed, safely, in comfort, on good motorways and dual carriageways for several hours, there aren’t many vehicles that can touch a 550. It is utterly effortless up to speeds well into the area where losing your liberty is more of an issue than losing your license. It manages to waft by at speeds that lesser vehicles scream by at. Were it not for the fact that the petrol gauge visibly falls above 130mph, this would be utterly stress free travel. On the day I picked mine up, I went from Warwick to St Albans in 45 minutes without really pushing on at all. Compared to later GT’s, it’s better than a Bentley Continental, because it doesn’t make a noise like a cow with James Herriot’s arm up its ****, and as good as an Aston DB9, because it hasn’t got an optional bamboo interior. I’ve driven a 575 and frankly, it’s exactly the same.

    On “sports car roads” things are bit testier. The weight and very long wheelbase of the car makes it more ungainly when the going gets twisty: weight shifts as you brake and accelerate and this distorts the flow of the car, until that is, you reach out for the magical “sports” button. Toggle to “Sports Mode” and suddenly everything becomes more taught and defined. The suspension hardens and the steering and throttle responses are noticeably quicker. It’s as if the whole car has had a face lift that actually worked. Now the weight is held in check by the stiffer suspension so you don’t get pitching and yawing as you accelerate and turn. You can drive quicker and use much more power, earlier in any corner. It’s not an Elise or Noble button, but it does transform a big GT into a match for any non-track-day car. In comparison to say a 355, you do still feel the weight transfers delaying the ability to put on the power, but it has so much more once raw muscle once it is settled that progress is easily comparable. It is definitely a better sports car than any other big GT, even a fiorano pack 575 isn’t noticeably more fun.

    The practical stuff:

    Petrol consumption is ridiculous. I’ve no idea how many miles it does to a gallon, but I have never had a car that had a tank so big that it exceeds the credit limit on motorway service station pumps, and it needs re-filling every two or three hours. Take it into a city and two things happen: Firstly petrol consumption actually increases and secondly you find there are no parking spaces for cars with four foot long doors, so you can’t get out anyway.

    Insurance is ludicrously expensive and only available from specialists anyway. Don’t bother calling Tesco.com or Directline or any of the others, they won’t insure you, but they will collect your life history before telling you. Best deal I got was on the web and it’s 10% more than my Aston, which isn’t garaged and has unlimited mileage. It’ll fall of course as the car ages, but it is irritating.

    Next: Living with an Evil car. A child’s guide to chopping off their own fingers.

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    Default February 2006: A good Month for Cars

    February 2006: A good Month for Cars

    As the weather clears and the days start to lengthen a man’s mind turns to spring and all that entails: Roads that are dry and warm, tyres that give traction and a blessed release from the winter grip of the ASR Traction control system.

    It happens that February 2006 has seen a few cars pass through my garage giving a rare opportunity to evaluate the cars I own against other models. The 550 has done about 400-500 miles in all weathers this month. It has been almost faultless and received big thumbs up from one of the P1 drivers who brought it back to my place to swap over one of their cars I’d borrowed. According to him mine is the best of the five 550s he’s driven regularly, so that’s nice. It would be good to say the car’s been faultless but that wouldn’t strictly be true. It developed an annoying habit of telling me the bonnet was open once it got over 100(ish) mph. The first time was slightly alarming. However I used my usual policy with so-called super cars: all warning lights are provided for guidance only and, unless there’s manifestly a funny noise or loud bang, should be ignored. Having arrived at my destination I checked everything and there was no obvious cause so it was mentally chalked up as “Irritating light to be ignored for the time being”.

    Having looked into it in more detail (i.e. asked someone who might know!) it appeared to be that the bonnet rubbers were simply set too high. 5 minutes with a spanner and all was reset. I’m pleased to report that the light now only comes on over 135 mph, so that’s pretty good progress.

    Anyway, the reflections after the other cars: This month I’ve had an F430 Spider, a new AMV8, the Ford GT and my own DB7 Vantage has returned from having a new clutch, quite a diverse and fun set of toys. I was trying to express to a colleague what each car was like relative to the others. The best I can do is:

    AMV8 was underwhelming and under powered. It was like a gorgeous woman who turned out to only read Heat magazine and thought sex was something that happened to her rather than her participating in an active role. It was pretty but ultimately unsatisfying.

    My DB7 is settling into comfortable middle age. It is still a supremely comfortable way of wafting along motorways, but even with its bottox new suspension and breast enhanced sports exhaust, it’s still a bit Joanna Lumley: Beautiful but best not examined too closely in bright light. The new clutch is a great bit of surgery and has really tightened up the whole drive chain delivering much more power at the rear, but I’m afraid she’ll never be Purdey again.

    This brings me to the two apparently most desirable bits of kit: F430 and Ford GT. I’ve now done about 700 miles in both cars and was thinking about why I don’t like the GT and why I wouldn’t buy the 430. It boils down to the underlying philosophy with the GT. Ford has used an American solution to building a super-car. I guess it goes a bit like this:

    “Right we haven’t got time to build a proper super-car, so just get as much petrol in the cylinders as possible and make it go bang as much as you can. Bollocks to traction-control just put the engine on the rear axle and put big tyres on it. Which engine – oh just get a truck engine and supercharge it for now. OK, now make it look like something we actually did some work on in the past and get it into the market. Finally, the key bit of the whole strategy: Paint all the Ford Focus’s the same colour and put white stripes down the middle and sell them to our real customers.”

    When you compare this to the F430 it’s immediately obvious that Ferrari have really tried hard to make something that is better than anything else out there because it is technically advanced and exquisitely well designed.

    It’s as if a king approached Ford and Ferrari to build the world’s tallest structure. A few years later he came back to Ford and said “What have you got?” They revealed a towering pyramid made of great hewn blocks of stone piled up into the sky. Turning to Ferrari the king asked the same question. The Italians revealed the Eifel tower, an engineering masterpiece. Noting that the tower was a few inches higher than the pyramid, the Americans stuck another block on top of their pyramid and claimed success.

    That’s how the Ford GT compares to F430: If the Ferrari went quicker, Ford would just force more petrol into the truck engine. It’s not subtle, but it works on a trivial, Top Trumps level.

    So why wouldn’t I buy a F430? Firstly there’s the price. The sheer number of F430s being made makes the depreciation potentially horrible and before the “buy it cause you love it” crowd stir from their graves, the one thing you do expect from a Ferrari is exclusivity. F430 will depreciate because the exclusivity is rapidly being eroded.

    So where does that leave my 550? It’s 6 years old, but is faster and at least as much fun as an AMV8, and is cheaper. It does 200 mph, I’m told, like an F430, but without the Footballers Wives comedy exhaust. It has a boot and luggage space, which is more than can be said for an F430, and it’s probably always going to be more exclusive once they start to get churned out.

    It’ll never be as exclusive as Ford GT, but then again you can’t actually park a Ford GT anywhere because of the absurd door design, so what’s a GT actually for other than to enhance Ford’s flagging brand?

    So of the lot I’ve had this month, the 550 is easily the most practical 200 mph car you can get for £55-70k if you ever need to go shopping.

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    Default Quiet Reflections in a Traffic Free World: Rambling Round Everest

    Quiet Reflections in a Traffic Free World: Rambling Round Everest

    March and April are months that bring hope. The lengthening days bring thoughts to spring-like things: How tedious Formula 1 has become; Why Le Mans hotels are always booked up and why teenagers today insist on showing their midriffs when they clinically obese.

    I spent March in Nepal, a country in the grip of revolution, although the Maoist rebels who fined tourists did give a receipt (to prevent wealth being over distributed by repeat “contributions”) and probably would have allowed photographs of potential kidnappers in an “I’m having a great time in Nepal with the friendly Maoist Guerrilla” Poses.

    There are however some difficulties when it comes to a running report on a Ferrari 550, not least the fact that I was several thousand miles away in an area that has no roads whatsoever. However as I sat in the Zen-like calm of Denboche Buddhist Monastery high in the Himalaya, Looking across at Mount Everest, I began to allow my mind to search for inner calm and tranquillity. It turned out that this was actually quite boring, so instead I started to compile a list of car makes and models that I had driven and what I thought of them. In the rarefied atmosphere of high altitude your mind works differently due to the fact that it has less oxygen than it’s used to. I envisaged it as a sort of Road movie, “The Road to a Ferrari 550”, but inevitably it will actually be more of a list:

    Aston Martin: Astons are powerful, beautiful and made out of dead cows, lots of dead cows. The car I have owned longest of any is my Aston, a car I have had for 5 1/2 happy years. My DB7 Vantage has achieved great things: Poole to Morocco, a distance of 1750 miles, in a day; It makes motorway driving a pleasure as deferential road users allow me to waft past like Moses parting the Red Sea.

    I am currently thinking of making the leap of faith that is buying a Vanquish, truly the last word in absurdity left in global motoring. Vanquishes are like Bridget Bardot on a St Tropez Beach in 1969: So what that she was an animal rights fanatic with extreme right wing views and a tendency to self abuse. I forgive her, all heterosexual men will forgive her, indeed even homosexual men see her as a blond version of Judy Garland and worship accordingly. OK, by 2005 my forgiveness might be wearing a bit thin, but that is because I am superficial and shallow, not because my original forgiveness was an error. I should have looked past the beauty and seen the spirit and found it in my heart to understand. The same is true of a Vanquish. It is extreme, will age badly, but will still be beloved by those who understand that the spirit of a car is proportionate to more than its horsepower and 0-60 time. All you have to do to want a Vanquish is listen to one: the engine makes the noise that sets every man spontaneously grinning. When they announce the manual conversion in two weeks, suddenly everyone will want one.

    Bentley: Bentley’s are rubbish in many respects but they are jolly fast and Footballers and Dead people love them. They mysteriously hold their value despite the fact that there are thousands of them. Not my cup of Earl Grey at all.

    BMW: Everybody who doesn’t pay for their own car and is in a golf club has owned a BMW. I have not. I have driven “M Series” cars on roads and tracks. They are very nice but have silly traction control. If you have one, you will like it a lot. That’s about all there is to say about BMW isn’t it?

    Ford: The Ford GT was designed and built to enhance the brand values of the Ford Focus. It has no engineering that is anywhere near to the cutting edge of anything. It is a truck engine clothed in a pantomime Le Mans outfit. It goes fast because it burns huge amounts of fuel. It is very silly because it has doors that decapitate you that you cannot get out of. However, it is a bit of a laugh, and it all depends on whether Katie Price is your cup of tea.

    Lamborghini: The ultimate fantasy car company. Murceillago is a brute, Gallardo a metal incarnation of a wet dream. They have character in the same way that Vlad the Impaler had a dry sense of humour. Surely there is no-one in the world, who wasn’t neglected by their mothers, who would want to drive one every day. Equally surely everyone who’s put a rude word in a search engine, understands the utter pointless absurdity that makes these things so desirable. They are hard core porn on wheels and non-the-worse for it.

    Mercedes: Prior to taking over Chrysler, Mercedes were a manufacturer of innovative quality cars that wafted around exuding class. After taking over Chrysler we all began to notice the fact that they also built Smart cars, that almost all taxis in the world that weren’t made by Toyota were Mercedes, and that German cars do not always come with a guarantee of being well made. The AMG 55 was owned by Jeremy Clarkson and the SL55 by Ronnie O’Sullivan. It’s like a magnolia coloured vibrator: What’s the point of trying to be tasteful once you’ve decided you are in the dildo business?

    Porsche: When Hitler ordered a People’s Car, I don’t think he had the 911 GT2 in mind, however, we should seek out the positive in all things and it cannot be denied that one of the most odious regimes in history did give us two decent things: Motorways without speed limits and Ferdinand Porsche was set on his way to greatness. Were it not for the fact that I have never paid for one, it would pain me to say that Porsches can be the best cars in the world. It’s not a reliability or top speed or shape thing. You’d never buy a 911 because of its new shape. The thing that makes Porsche great is that the machine delivers what’s promised. The GT3RS and GT2 are such utterly brilliant cars that I have to justify not having had one. However, the justification is easy. When I had a GT2 for a few days, people in Boxsters waved and flashed their lights at me. It was mortifying. I did not want to be in the Boxster Boys club anymore than I wanted to wear Pringle. But that’s the problem, they are all Pringle shaped and it is deeply embarrassing when all you want to do is show off.

    Next Month : To Le Mans and Back?

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    Default May 2006

    Service Time

    Every year I have an annual medical. This involves people asking impertinent questions about my lifestyle and me giving evasive answers. The snap of a rubber glove then clears the mind as the doctor (in our case an impossibly beautiful Harley Street doctor) checks to see if my prostate is yet enlarged enough to allow me to join a golf club and buy a Bentley. Fortunately there are only three outcomes: Chronically ill (unfit for work), acutely ill (unfit for work), or Fit for Work. As I survey the wreckage of humanity that are my colleagues, I draw little comfort from the fact that I am apparently fit for work. One of my former partners was too fat to get through the new turnstile security gates at my former offices – he was fit for work, though how he got in to do any was a bit of a mystery.

    Similarly a car goes away for its annual check, and this month it’s the 550’s turn. Since I’ve only had the car a relatively short time I was anticipating waving it away on it’s nice shiny transporter in the expectation that it would return with new oil, a full window washer reservoir and a nice valet. The nice people at Maranello managed yet again to fail to arrive on time to pick the car up. I had e-mailed and called to arrange everything in advance. I sat at home waiting in vain like John Prescott trying to have an original idea, until finally I could take it no longer and I called them. They apologised profusely but they had some indeterminate problem and couldn’t arrive at the time that they had promised. They thought that they could get there by 3pm that afternoon, maybe. I patiently pointed out that I’d had to phone them to find this out, not them phone me, as I thought I might reasonably have expected. Anyway, long experience has taught me that getting angry achieves little, so the car was picked up a day late and the collection charge was duly waived with no fuss. I left a nice note of the minor irritations that I wanted them to look at, (Squeaky brakes, annoying light saying the bonnet’s open at 130mph) and asked them to call me before doing anything that wasn’t part of the standard service.

    A couple of days later they duly called to say that all was well and that the car had a new MOT. There was only one item that they wanted to discuss with me. The door retaining thing was worn and should probably be replaced. Not knowing what a door retaining thing was didn’t help my decision so I sought clarification. I was duly told that it’s a bit of metal that stops the door swinging open and getting damaged. It would cost £240 to replace (I may have the figure slightly wrong, after the syllables “Two Hundred” the clarity of my recollection became impeded). Had I not been hung-over I might have responded sensibly. The right response would of course have been “There’s no parking space in the country big enough to fully open the door of a Ferrari 550 and therefore the protection afforded by the offending door retainer is wholly redundant, I’ll keep my £200 and spend it on filling the car with petrol, approximately twice as it happens.” However, in my weakened state I gave the answer I always give to car maintenance people “Best just do it then”. So now I have a 550 with a brand spanking new door retainer. If I ever find myself parked in a car park with 20 foot wide parking spaces I’ll be glad of the extra expense. I’m sure that when I come to p/ex or sell it, I’ll get full value for that decision.

    The service cost £1,109 .08 + VAT. Maranello know that I am not a company, I am a private individual. They presumably therefore know I pay VAT and cannot recover it. So why do we have this farce of them telling me the price less VAT? If I buy a pair of £99.99 shoes the girl in Peter Jones or wherever doesn’t say “They make you look 10 years younger and they’re only £85.10 + VAT” so why do car dealers?

    Anyway, the brakes no longer squeal, the ‘bonnet open’ light has not blinked on again and other than that it’s in fine health. So, just over 3,000 miles over the winter driven with no drama at all.

    Actually I tell a lie, there was the day I forgot about the way the immobiliser worked. I pulled in a petrol station and, as usual tried to get the pump to deliver the fuel without cutting out all the time. Paid the bill (new record today £83.25 to fill it) got in the car and the engine was dead. New girl friend (as she was then) wasn’t looking too impressed as I fumbled about (not the first time that’d happened). I was about to call the AA when it dawned on me that the immobiliser had armed itself whilst I was paying the bill. Normally I’d have locked the door. Not wanting to leave new girlfriend in the car with the alarm activated, I’d left it unlocked for too long and the immobiliser had cut in. Quick blip on the key fob and off we went; me with slightly reduced street credibility.

    All pretty boring for a supercar: it’s not tried to kill me or bankrupt me, there must be something wrong.

  8. #8
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    Default Petrol, George W Bush and Being Unfaithful in an Audi

    Petrol, George W Bush and Being Unfaithful in an Audi

    “If you can’t afford the petrol you can’t afford the car”. We’ve all heard this one before. To be fair until last week I was firmly of the view that cars weren’t much fun without fuel in them and therefore worrying about it was a bit pointless. I never had any idea what mpg my old 328 did and I have no notion of what the DB7 does. However, the 550 has been giving me cause for concern.

    On my credit card I get something like 1 air-mile for every £10 spent. As I have been increasingly driving the 550 in preference to the Aston, I have noticed that my Air-Miles account has started to fill up. Suddenly I can fly free to most major world cities. I was thanking my lucky stars for such great fortune when I began to investigate the source of my new found mobility.

    It turned out to be a gift from George W Bush. By invading Iraq and destabilising world oil prices thereby pushing up pump prices, George W has given me the opportunity to fly to his country for nothing – truly the land of the free. I will drop him a line thanking him one day, when he’s retired probably, I don’t think encouraging him just now is the right thing to do.

    Well having established that I am paying huge amounts of my income to fuel cars I thought I may as well actually find out how many miles to the gallon the car does. Fortunately I was off up to Snowdonia to shin up a hill at the weekend, so I had ample opportunity to check the data on a decent long run with motorways and ‘A’ roads. The answer turns out to be: between 14.5 and 15.5mpg. This means it costs me 33p per mile in fuel. Add that to the £1.00 a mile depreciation, 40p per mile service bill and it’s costing around £1.75 per mile. It is actually cheaper to go by taxi on certain journeys!

    I had toyed with a Porsche Cayenne as a “sensible “car. I test drove a 3.6 litre V6. The handling isn’t bad for a 4X4, it never feels like it’s going to actually fall over. It is, however, the most gutless thing since Captain Birdseye first realised that fish fingers were the way to a young boy’s heart. It is dangerously and embarrassingly slow.

    Disillusioned, I had a new idea: Buy a diesel. I’ve never owned a diesel; they have always been like tractors to me: Practical and ideal for the right environment, but generally a pain in the backside if you are stuck behind one. So it was with trepidation that I set off to investigate the world of diesel engined road vehicles.

    It is a little incongruous to turn up at a car showroom in a Ferrari 550 and ask about the Volvo XC90 or BMW X5. To be fair the people at Volvo and BMW managed to save my embarrassment by totally ignoring me whilst I hovered about their showroom trying to look like I owned a caravan. What is it about car salesmen that make them so inert? It’s not like they have to work very hard all day, so they can’t be worn out. They just hang about waiting to catch a customer, stick him in the car for a test drive, agree with every thing they say and then see if they can get you to sign a finance agreement. It’s not hard. Never-the-less they are generally to be found, as Isaac Newton miraculously predicted 100 years before the internal combustion engine was invented, at rest.

    I decided to try another tack – I’d phone and arrange a test drive. This actually worked a treat. Audi were prompt to reply, got a car to me to test and sent along a lovely young lady to sell it to me. Now this might be a good tactic in certain circumstances, but I got distracted from the issues I was meant to be thinking about. When she asked me what I thought of it, I was still marvelling that she could get her feet into such pointy shoes, so I was a bit vague. As I’ve had three or four Audi Quattros in the past and they’re all very similar inside, I wasn’t under going any kind of new car revelation. “It’s very similar to my old RS4” I muttered realising that the parallels between a 400 bhp V6 Twin Turbo and an oil burning stove on wheels might be lost on my new companion. So our test drive progressed. I discovered all sorts of useful things about my new friend, and very little about the Audi Avant 3.0 TDI Quattro. Arriving back at the garage she gave me my cup of tea and moved in for the kill. Our burgeoning emotional bond was broken when I finally had to admit that I was a company car buyer and we could never consummate our relationship. Strangely the fleet sales person had much more sensible shoes, a polyester suit and was, as far as I could tell, planning on being a man when he grew up. So there it is. A month ago I was thinking about a Vanquish, today I’m teetering on the edge of actually getting a diesel estate. God that ***** George W Bush has a lot to answer for.

  9. #9
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    Default June 2006

    The Evil Car Renamed and a Conversation with a Policeman

    Personalised number plates: You either love them or hate them. I once worked with a company doctor who told me that he had no ego and that’s why he was able to motivate people in failing companies and turn them around. I remarked that the registration B19 SXA on his Bentley parked in front of the reception could at a pinch be read as “BIG SXA” (His initials, disguised to spare blushes). He said he’d never noticed and his wife had bought it for him. Another skill of a company doctor is the ability to brazen it out when caught being economical with the truth.

    My 550 is currently registered as T234 EJH. Since I drive it all the time and have never apparently been seen (Even Tom missed me when he was actually sitting in it!) I decided to become more conspicuous. Having tried unsuccessfully to purchase the registration F55O GTM, I contacted the DVLA by email. They kindly sent me a form to fill in with the registrations I might be interested in. I filled it out and lo and behold 6 months later they have one of my requests in the DVLA Auction. I bought my catalogue and registered and promptly forgot all about it. So yesterday when the phone rang and a charming lady told me that she was my telephone bidder I was at first somewhat taken aback. Two minutes earlier I was trying to explain to a potential client that the reason they are called “Balance Sheets” is because they have to balance, otherwise they’re just “Sheets”. Now I was in an auction, how exciting.

    My lot came up, tension mounted.
    “Opening bids at £400”-
    “Shall I bid?”-
    “Yes, £400”-
    “I have £400 on the telephone”
    (That’s me, the mystery telephone bidder, very James Bond)-
    “Any more offers?”-
    “Sold for £400”.
    Well, I was happy not to have paid more than I had to, but it was hardly buying a Monet. In fact I am now the proud owner of F550 RJG (My initials). Christ knows how you get it on the car, but no doubt the DVLA will tell me, for a fee.

    I firmly believe that cars are for driving. I cannot understand what else you would do with a car other than drive it. They’re no good at hill walking, cooking or sex, so all the 550 and I have in common is middle age and an interest in driving. In an attempt to bring together all my interests in a single event, I decided to go to the Lake District in the Ferrari with my girl friend, staying in a self catering apartment for the weekend. All I needed was good weather, good roads, fresh local produce and the long promised, but never produced, latex nurse’s outfit and things would be perfect.

    The journey up was 7 hours, all at 30-60mph as every half wit in Britain drove along the motorway 3 feet from the car in front. Everybody presumably now knows that if you drive very close to the cars in front that you cause traffic jams. “Sheer weight of traffic” is the BBC euphemism for the effect of myopic morons driving up each other’s backsides. Well apparently not, because we passed the length of this sceptred Isle stopping and starting like a kid in a game of musical chairs. Finally after many hours, we turned onto the hallowed roads of the Lake District.

    If you haven’t driven around the Lakes in summer you have missed two memorable experiences:

    Firstly is the majesty and beauty of an winding open road with a lake glinting in the sun to one side and hills soaring away to the other.

    Second is the utter desperation that is felt when yet another caravan causes a mile long snaking traffic jam. Why do people feel the need to tow their houses around after them? Buy a tent, or stay in a hotel, but don’t get in your Volvo and tow a lump of marine plywood round behind you blocking the passage of your fellow citizens. And another thing – Who on God’s earth names these abominations? The Elddis Swift – my backside. The Marauder – how do you go marauding in a caravan? Do they think the Vikings came over in long boats towing a small Norwegian Log Cabin behind them? Don’t be so bloody ridiculous. Give them names that are meaningful: The Elddis Constipator, Constrictor, perhaps even the Chopper – as in Ron “Chopper” Harris – you shall not pass.

    Anyway, eventually we found our way to the road to Wasdale Head over Wrynose Pass and Hardknock Pass- roads too steep for any caravan to contemplate. F550s are not blessed with huge ground clearance. They’re not GT3RS silly and don’t need the “Shirt Lifter” fitted to a Murceillago to get it over cobbles, but they are a bit on the low side. So it was with some trepidation that I set off up the pass.

    There is a sign at the foot of Wrynose pass which says “Unsuitable for any road vehicles of any type in Winter”. This is designed to discourage 4X4 drivers from setting off up the pass only to find that the BMW X5 isn’t actually capable of scaling 45 degree snow fields so that the nice men of Wasdale will have to leave the bar and come and rescue another idiot who can’t read.

    I wandered what I would say to those self same men if I was found teetering on some part of the pass in bright summer sunshine in a Ferrari. Not likely to get much sympathy was my working hypothesis. As is turned out the car barely complained, a few scrapes of the front spoiler, but nothing to get uptight about. On arrival at the Wasdale the barmen/mountain rescue team couldn’t have been more welcoming – “You took it over the passes? You are ******* mad?” with a big Cumbrian grin.

    The journey back took a mere 6 hours. 15 minutes of which I spent in conversation with a policeman who followed me into a service station on the M6 because he thought that I had “pulled into a gap that was less than three times the length of your car”. I figured that he couldn’t do me for speeding because I wasn’t and his attempt to argue that I was undertaking was somewhat undermined by the fact that my speed in the middle lane had stayed constant whilst those in the outside lane declined to a near standstill and to the best of my knowledge going past queuing traffic isn’t an offence. Eventually he pulled a stern face and told me that I had “a perfect right to buy a car that you can only use a fraction of the performance of” and went of to have a cup of tea with his colleague. I honestly couldn’t tell whether he was serious or taking the piss. I’m reasonably confident that he wouldn’t have followed a Volvo and since he didn’t actually stop me, I presume he either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Anyway, he had ginger hair so he has enough of a burden without me going on about it.
    July is the Le Mans Classic- Let’s see if the French Police are any happier!
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    Default To Le Mans

    To Le Mans

    Anybody who likes cars has to go to Le Mans once in their life. Anyone who likes cars but doesn’t like camping by an open sewer might consider the attraction of Le Mans Classique. Being French, this is not a wholly original idea but has its own unique features. It is of course based upon Lord March’s Goodwood Revival, a fine institution where English men and women can indulge in the national sport of dressing up like a toff or a spiv. The atmosphere of Goodwood is unique: As the Spitfire passes overhead you can almost imagine a tousled haired school boy behind the marquees, with the pockets of his flannel shorts full of conkers being buggered senseless by the local MP.

    The French of course do it differently. They say on les billets that gentlemen have to wear a tie to enter the paddock. This was annoying as it was forecast to be damned hot. However, not wishing to be left standing outside, my two friends and I all dutifully packed our “I’m an Englishman Abroad” linen clothes and set off for the Channel Tunnel.

    On the way down I met a chap in a 550 on the Dartford Bridge. Being England, we were stuck in traffic and had time to wind down the window and have a chat. He professed to having had his car chipped and claimed some 500+ BHP – It was probably more, but I wasn’t taking notes. His mate and he were making the pilgrimage to Maranello. After paying the toll we played a sensible game of follow my leader until some Jack-the-lad Ford Focus driver decided to show who was boss. Quite why anyone in a Focus wants to race a pair of Ferrari 550s on a motorway is a bit beyond me – it’s not a great test of driving skill to push the accelerator, but it happens. Anyway, I’m sure he’s telling all his mates how he scorched past and disappeared into the distance, assuming he hasn’t already disappeared into a hedge, or a prison, by now.

    Arriving at Eurotunnel, we parted company and I met my own companions who were travelling down in a 1985 Porsche Carrera. Having passed through the tunnel without any excitement, the glorious open roads of The Continent beckoned. Now, we’ve all heard horror stories of the clamp down on Les Anglais by Inspector Clousseau and his mates. We hear that they steal your car for speeding, fine you for having devices that warn of speed cameras and generally don’t like us using their nice clear roads as a playground.

    My plan to avoid all this was simple: I use a hi-tech method to spot speed cameras called looking out of the window. To date it has been 100% reliable, but I wasn’t sure if Inspector Clousseau painted them bright orange or not. The problem of patrol cars was easier: I wouldn’t have to outrun the patrol car, only the 1985 Porsche, so I was pretty confident that I’d be OK.

    As it turned out France was much as it had always been: Crazy drivers but always prepared to get out of the way of faster moving traffic. Why the English can’t adopt the road manners of the French is a mystery. We are blessed with polite waiters and cursed by appalling road manners. For the French it’s the other way round.

    We made serene and rapid progress across the French countryside arriving at our hotel some 10 miles North of Le Mans by early evening. Only one French speed trap was passed in the middle of a town and the chap with the camera waved at us as we went past at 30 mph.

    After a few beers and wines on Friday night we went back to out Hotel: Formula One hotel (27 Euros a room inc breakfast) no en-suite, “Cheap as Frites”, I believe the French call it. Saturday morning we crawled out of bed. Like good ex-students we all admitted that we had pissed in the sink in the room rather than trekking to the toilets at the end of the corridor. Not big, not clever, but certainly nostalgic and therefore in keeping with a trip to Le Mans Classique.

    Tip 1: If you stay in a Formula One hotel, rinse the sink before cleaning your teeth or washing your face.

    Driving the last few miles down to Le Mans was uneventful – lost the Porsche on every roundabout and followed the impenetrably complex colour coded signs for various car parks, none of which made any sense at all. Finally we arrived at the hallowed grounds.



    After a traditional French Breakfast – L’Egg and bacon butty- we sauntered around in our linen and ties – mine ruined by dripping egg yolk from Le Butty.

    We approached the Paddock and were somewhat taken aback to find that our continental cousins had foregone the linen and ties ensemble but were still being allowed to go in dressed in what certainly did not qualify as “smart casual”.

    Tip 2: Don’t go to Le Mans looking like an extra from “A Passage to India”, it’s bloody uncomfortable and you can’t get egg yolk out of linen. The French don’t understand the dressing up part of the experience, so don’t bother.

    Anyway, we ogled lots of cars and looked disapprovingly at lots of foreign people who clearly weren’t wearing ties or linen, and then headed off for lunch.

    The Goodwood Revival isn’t very good at food. They seem to think that calling it an “Organic Gloucester Old Spot Rare Breed Sausage” in a bun, somehow compensates for the 20 minute wait for a “meal” that combines the flavour of a cremation coupled with the texture of oily onions. Les Frogs do it so much better. OK the wait is still 20 minutes, but the food is actually edible. Crispy frites and thick cut ham all served on wooden batons with a bottle of beer.

    And so to the racing: Nothing can prepare you for the comedy that is the start of a classic Le Mans Race. Les Pilots aren’t quite sure what to do as they wait for the formal start. Some are deeply cool and just sit in the shade, others are enormously self aware and try to pretend that there aren’t about 1,000 people right behind then in the main stand.
    Eventually they are called to order and, after a dramatic pause, they’re off. 40 odd fat middle aged rich blokes (and a couple of racing drivers who’ve borrowed a fat middle aged rich bloke’s car) attempt to sprint 10 yards wearing a fireproof overall and a crash helmet. Their adrenaline pumps and is corsing through their veins propelled by their over worked hearts. They leap (some more salmon like than others) into their cars, struggle to fasten their harnesses over their heaving girths, slam it into gear and roar off.

    This is where it gets funny: Imagine 40 cars, each worth somewhere between £100-£1m all driven by out of breath fat blokes full of adrenaline pulling off in various stages. Unlike F1 the fast runners can be anywhere on the grid, because qualifying times don’t include a running start, so the first cars to pull away aren’t necessarily those at the front of the grid. Little sprinter chap at the back can be doing a good 60-100 mph in his £70k Austin Healey when fat bloke at the front pulls out in his £1m Testarossa (or whatever, you get the picture). You have never seen so many cars taking avoiding action in your life.




    And then it all settles down whilst they career off into the French countryside and stretch themselves out into a longest field imaginable by the end of lap 1.

    Space and time prevent me from describing the racing any further, suffice to say it’s nostalgic and the noise sets the hairs on the back of your neck on end.

    We left on Sunday at about 4 pm and headed off to watch the world cup final at a local hotel. The omens were good. In 1998 I was fortunate enough to be at the final when Zindane defeated Brasil – or Bra-zero as several million chanted on the Champs Elysees all night. This time was different. The three Anglais were accompanied by a Polish bar man and a stray Japanese bus party, somewhat ruining the “I was in France” atmosphere. Fortunately the French have no Motty equivalent, their Gary Lineker is a rather attractive blonde lady and Arsene Wenger was doing the Alan Hansen/Martin O’Neil role. Couldn’t understand much of the analysis but I think I was just ahead of the Japanese. The rest as they say is L’histoire: Zindane proved himself to be most un-French by actually attacking an Italian, rather than surrendering to a German and the Italians proved that you don’t have to be a great team to be world champions – but you do have to be a team.

    So, the Ferrari 550: a good car for crossing continents, never missed a beat despite breaking a few personal land speed records, and France – still a great place to drive, even if you are in Italian super car the day after they lose to Italy in the world cup final.
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