The Write Stuff

Car magazines.

Voltaire once wrote, “Judge a man by the questions he asks, not his answers,” and that’s not a bad way to evaluate the worth of a motor magazine. Does it tell you what it wants you to hear or thinks is expected, or does it challenge, entertain, inform, intrigue, question and surprise through original thought, deep understanding and captivating prose? Of late I’ve become a little disillusioned with motor magazines and the quality of content and writing, and perhaps this is directly proportional to the increasing number on the market….

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Bug Life

1938 Volkswagen Beetle.

Beneath a heavy grey December sky which promised snow, a beige ’61 VW 1200 De Luxe chugged its way south out of Edinburgh along the A68 to the steady beat of an air-cooled flat-four. Past Fala Dam and through the Lammermuir Hills the little car climbed, and as the long steep ascent of Carter Bar approached its driver dropped a gear and the exhaust note hardened. It was 1971 and a few days before Christmas. I was making my way home from university for the holidays, and undertaking the journey…

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Hark The Herald

Triumph Herald in storage.

Beneath years of dust and fossilised spare part boxes, a pair of Triumph Heralds sit forlornly between a breeze-block garage wall and the metal casing of a former paint spray booth. Five more Heralds and a Vitesse occupy the main floorspace, a Dolomite Sprint and Herald-based MG TF-like Gentry are parked within the booth. Automobilia laden shelves, motoring photographs and posters cover the walls. An adjoining room contains tottering piles of car magazines and books alongside numerous ancient bicycles and the component parts of a large train set. A second…

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2017 Hillclimb Challenge: Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI prepared for action in the paddock at Doune.

I have heard people say that if a car is correctly set up for one piece of road, it will work well on any other. What follows is partly a demonstration that this is not true. The 2017 motorsport season has been more frustrating and less rewarding than I had expected. Five manufacturers (no, you’re going to have to guess) either agreed, or offered without being asked, to supply cars and then backed out of the deal. Even more annoyingly, I was denied entry to an event because the organising…

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Porsche 356

Frontal view of Porsche 356 B in the paddock at Bo'ness.

One of my more tiresome habits is to refer to the first-generation Volkswagen Beetle whenever possible within earshot of friends who own Porsche 911s. This is partly because, even though its engine is clearly in the wrong place, I like the 911 more than I want to admit and try to disguise the fact in public. However, it’s true that there is a connection between these famous long-running models, and even another car closely linked to both. That car is the Porsche 356. Designed by Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche, the son…

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Panda Crossing

Fiat Panda Cross parked in the snowy conditions that suit it best.

The wild winter of 2010 saw the roads of North Yorkshire snowbound from well before Christmas until far into the New Year. This was not good news for drivers of BMWs with wide wheels and tyres, and it became a standing joke that whenever the TV news showed a clip of some unfortunates pushing a slewing car along a snow covered road it was inevitably a BeeEm. One morning, following a heavy overnight fall, I gingerly set out for my office 35 miles to the north by first driving south…

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2017 Hillclimb Challenge: BMW 540i xDrive M Sport

Marshals manouevring the BMW 540i xDrive M Sport into position at the Shelsley Walsh start line.

The summer of 2017 is not one I’m going to remember with any great fondness, at least as far as motorsport activity is concerned. All sorts of complication and nonsense created an unforeseen gap of nearly four months in the Primo plc Multi Vehicle Insurance / Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes Hillclimb Challenge schedule, so it was a relief to be back in action at Shelsley Walsh in mid August. BMW, one of the Challenge’s most consistent supporters, had kindly agreed to supply a car for the third season running….

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To Portofino By Jaguar

Peter Herbert's Jaguar XKR en route to Portofino.

Hull, City of Culture, is looking particularly moody beneath a grey threatening sky as we make our way through a barren landscape of factory units, car dealerships and wasteland to the King George Dock. Aboard the good ship Pride Of York the news is not good. Engine trouble will delay our overnight departure for Zeebrugge, a disappointment only compounded by the surly Spanish waiters serving dinner. It is as if they are still mourning the fall of Franco. But hey, this is the start of a continental road trip, and…

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Ford Fiesta Mk1 Popular

Mk1 Ford Fiesta Popular.

As someone who spent a large part of his youth competing in races, sprints and hillclimbs in a variety of Vauxhall Novas, I suppose I should have been programmed to dislike early examples of the Ford Fiesta. Fiestas, like Minis, were the enemy in those days. The Road Saloons up to 1300cc class was flooded with both, most of them driven by people of great talent and determination. There were times when I thought that if they would all scuttle off and leave me in peace my motorsport life would…

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Memories Of A Crofter

Peter Herbert's bright yellow Cosworth-powered Westfield sliding through a bend at Croft.

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that news of the opening of a new motor racing circuit close to my childhood home was greeted with unconfined joy within the Herbert household. However, for its youngest member, then still at school, this was something akin to a gift from heaven, delivered personally by the Angel Gabriel in the boot of a Group 2 Lotus Cortina. Motor racing had taken place intermittently over the perimeter roads of the former World War II airfield at Croft, five miles south of Darlington, since…

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