On days like these

It had been too long. The frozen winter hadn’t helped, but the responsibilities attached with being a grown-up dictated that I hadn’t been for a drive for the sheer thrill of it since last autumn. You know the drives I mean. Those that tempt you into an unfathomably early start and see you hit the sack the night before with a sense of anticipation and delight. Those snatched moments of driving pleasure that only us petrolheads seem to understand. For us, driving isn’t a means to an end, it is one of life’s gifts. The pleasure isn’t in arriving, it is in getting there.

About an hour ago I found one of these moments. Presented with an empty house and with a list of things to do that could wait until tomorrow, I grabbed the car keys and ventured out to the garage. Not a cloud in the sky and with only birdsong breaking the sound of silence, I opened the garage door, got into the car and twisted the key. Heart pumping just a little bit faster, it was just me and the car. No bag packed for work. No mobile phone. No passengers. I wasn’t sure where to go, but then that’s half the appeal.

Once out on to the open roads, it all seemed slightly surreal. The roads seemed familiar enough, but something was different. Where was the Toyota Yaris Verso with a driver who’s hellbent on slowing everyone else down? Where was the rural bus running empty between every empty bus stop? Where were the cyclists? In fact, why did I have the road to myself? I chose not to dwell on the questions for too long and simply take advantage of this rare opportunity.

My choice of wheels was a lightweight, almost stripped out little racing car. Weighing little more than 700kg, this car does without anything that could dilute the sense of involvement and detract from the purity of the drive. There’s no forced induction, no heavy air conditioning unit, no ABS and no power steering. But it does have electric front windows and with the weather so fine, these were lowered and the sunroof was opened. No radio today, this was just me and the car.

With empty roads ahead I was free to enjoy everything that is great about this car. Just 24 hours ago I was driving a go-kart around a track and yet somehow this felt even more involving, even more thrilling. The superb chassis providing huge levels of grip but not at the expense of feedback, with the steering wheel fidgeting and dancing as the car rides the uneven surfaces and numerous twists and turns. With a modest 85bhp, there is no torque steer to dilute the experience, yet the power-to-weight ratio of 120bhp ensured that the drive felt faster than reality. This was further helped by the low-slung driving position and ultra thin bodywork that provided a sense of involvement without equal on any car I’d driven this year.

As the roads opened up ahead of me, my heart began to race even faster. Even driving with the legal limits of the road, I was having the time of my life. All those hours spent sat in traffic, all those icy roads, all the Yaris Versos and all of the days spent dreaming of the Col de Turini. None of it mattered now, this stolen 30 minutes of heaven wiped them all out. These roads I know so well, felt so different when my thoughts were filled with the next bend rather than the working day ahead or just gone. A tiny glimpse back to that moment you drive your own car for the very first time without L plates. That sense of freedom and wonder.

But then reality hits home. Reaching the end of my brief drive, I pull up behind a line of slow moving traffic and stare at the back of a silver Ford Mondeo LX. As I watch an impatient BMW X5 driver weave between the slow moving cars and incur the wrath of all those around him, I know the drive is over. My heart sinks. I make my way home, put the car away and give it a little tap of appreciation as I close the garage door. An addiction had been feed. An itch had been scratched. And you know the best thing about it.

The car I drove was my Citroën AX GT.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

11 comments

  1. April 21, 2011
    Chris C

    Good grief! I can’t remember when I last got in the car, just for a drive.

    In these politically correct, anti-car days, it seems unacceptable to admit to just going for a drive.

    Great choice of vehicle and venue though Gav

    Chris

    Reply
    • April 21, 2011
      MajorGav

      I had a friend to stay recently who found it most amusing that I chose to drive just for the hell of it.

      You should do it this weekend. It is rather liberating.

      Reply
  2. April 21, 2011
    Claire

    putting aside a great review of the AX i’m beginning to think you ought to start writing bodice ripping novels…. such a way with words!

    Reply
    • April 21, 2011
      MajorGav

      Ha! I’m not sure I’d be all that good at Mills and Boon style stories. I can imagine a chapter that’s about to reach a gripping climax, only for the lead male’s attention to be diverted to an old copy of Autocar magazine or the distant sound of a throbbing V8 engine…

      Reply
  3. May 3, 2011
    car engines

    I am often to blogging and i really appreciate your content. The article has really peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark http://www.petrolblog.com and keep checking for new information.

    Reply
  4. May 5, 2011
    mikeygtv

    Always a good day, the sun was out the sky was blue, hte windows were down..

    Alfa Romeo GTV, in the Derbyshire hills, with a bit of Matt Monro on full blast….la bella soliel !!!!!!! perfection for that brief moment.

    Reply
    • May 5, 2011
      MajorGav

      All to brief as well. Haven’t had a similar experience since 🙁

      Reply
  5. December 16, 2011
    Rupert McDonald

    This is brilliant Gav! It brings back amazing memories of being sent to get the milk in Moretonhampstead, choosing to take the AX, then proceeding to drive through the village, past the shop and up past Bovey Castle and beyond! I REALLY miss that little car! Rupe

    Reply
    • December 17, 2011
      MajorGav

      Good to hear from you, Rupert. Can’t believe I’ve had the AX for over a year now. She’s now ‘resting’ in the garage for the winter. Will do some fettling ready for her reemergence in the spring.

      You’re so right about the milk. It’s what I call a ‘pint of milk car’. 😉

      So, are you tempted into getting another AX GT? All the best.

      Reply
      • December 18, 2011
        Rupert McDonald

        Yes!! G962THW please! 🙂 There’s a white one on piston heads too- only 55k, but he wants 1400, and it’s got after market alloys, (which can only be a bad thing in my book). Beggars can’t be choosers these days though, there aint many left!
        Sadly most have fallen into the wrong hands- those who want to make it into a saxo 🙁 I’ve had 205’s and a MK2 Golf, but I think the AX is in a league of its own for fun and simplicity!
        Black was always my favourite colour GT, I love the pics of G962THW on here, she looks amazing. You should definitely get those fogs wired in with the yellow tints!

        Reply
        • December 18, 2011
          MajorGav

          There are 108 on the road and 177 SORN. Although what state of disrepair or hideous modification they’re in is anyone’s guess!

          Fortunately people are beginning to realise what a little gem the AX GT is, so I’d hope that the remaining cars will be cherished. Now’s the time to buy one.

          Reply

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