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.