x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Satisfying the everyman

I love old cars. I'm sure you're already sick of hearing me wax on about classics, and how they are archeological finds, and blah blah blah. Please, for me, can you stop rolling your eyes? I have a point coming up.

I love old cars. I'm sure you're already sick of hearing me wax on about classics, and how they are archeological finds, and blah blah blah. Please, for me, can you stop rolling your eyes? I have a point coming up.

Two old cars I've owned couldn't have been more different: a 1967 Chevrolet Biscayne and a 1965 Triumph Spitfire. I loved them both with all of my heart, but for completely different reasons.

The Biscayne was a land yacht of a car; a long, wide, four-door saloon that I once fit 10 people inside, and we weren't as uncomfortable as you might imagine.

Old-timers would tell me they used to drive these cars with just one finger on the top of the wide, skinny steering wheel and cruise slowly down the street; and you could, because of the overboosted steering. It was more than comfortable and sort of floated down the road, languidly bobbing over rough tarmac like a ship in a light wind.

But it was in no way sporty; it dived and heaved to one side and the other if you tried a sharp curve at speed, its tyres squealing their remorse. And braking was a product of forward planning, as its four drum brakes were woefully inadequate in pulling down a car that weighed as much as a small villa. But keeping this in mind just helped to enjoy the soft cruising, taking away the temptation of a lead foot.

The Spitfire, on the other hand, was a barrel of English-bred monkeys. A tiny little car, rising under the height of the tyres of large trucks, it was light and lithe, able to dart around corners and through traffic like a linebacker - well, a peewee-sized linebacker. While it didn't have much power, keeping the speed and revs up and rowing through the four gears, coupled with its sometimes harrowingly sharp handling, made driving it in fury an absolute blast.

But what it had in fun, it lacked in comfort. The seats were basically bundles of straw wrapped in vinyl, and the car rattled jarringly down a normal street, vibrating higher as the engine revs increased. On one of the only times I took it out on a major motorway, it shook so much - at 80kph -that the pop-up petrol cap kept, well, popping up, and I was forced to drive with one hand on the wheel and one hand on the cap, located just behind the passenger compartment.

That's the thing about cars back then; you either went for comfort or performance, but you couldn't have both.

But today, it's completely different. There are so many cars on the roads that offer not just a very comfortable ride but, to varying degrees, a scintillating and satisfying drive, too.

The Peugeot 3008 I review on the next page is just one example. Here's a car that's got a soft, cushy ride, soaking up bumps, yet when you put your right foot down in the twisties it rewards you with a bit of fun. I can think of a host of cars, from all ranges in price, that, in many respects, are like getting two cars in one.

In the higher price range, the Germans are the kings of combining luxury and performance. A while back I drove the excellent Mercedes E 63 AMG, an absolute rocket of a car, complete with a monstrous V8 soundtrack. But before I put it through its paces, I enjoyed a lovely back massage, listening to jazz through the stereo and quietly cruising down Sheikh Zayed Road. It's the kind of thing that would have been unheard of 20 or 30 years ago.

Sometimes you need to push a button, and sometimes the car is just dialled in mechanically for two personalities, but whatever it is, I like it.

Don't get me wrong, I still love old cars, but there's a reason they don't make 'em like they used to.