In the past few days I have experienced the extremes of motoring. It was flipping marvellous, particularly because neither wore an enormous price tag.
The first extreme came in the form of a four-wheel-drive Dacia Duster and an impressively challenging patch of woods near Chelmsford, run by a bunch of blokes at essexoffroad.com. I doubt any Dacia will ever again see quite such potentially disastrous mud and gradients (the specialist Defenders run by the centre should have been a hint at what to expect), but our top-spec, £15k 1.5 dCi 4x4 model did remarkably well on standard road tyres.
It proved a humbly lovable car, regardless of whether it was tackling the M25 or cocking a rear tyre about four feet off the ground over a dramatic mound of Essex dirt. I came away properly taken with it, not least because to me the Dacia’s character seems oddly reminiscent of the classic old Subaru Forester, with its classless, off-mainstream, utilitarian appeal.
At the other end of the scale, as ever in my life currently, is the Ginetta G40R. The full production car arrived on the long-term fleet recently, and you can read about the improvements in this week’s issue (25 July 2012). Suffice to say, it includes more power and better build quality.
What really brought it home to me was my first proper, give-it-everything track day, which I did at Rockingham, where I also (just about) completed a G40 Challenge race last year. I had almost forgotten how brilliantly involving, rapid and generally laugh-out-loud entertaining the Ginetta is on track. In an instant, it makes all the bouts of tinnitus and six-point turns with heroically heavy unassisted steering (which is as it should be in this car) worthwhile.
An even better indication of just how good the G40R is was provided by Ginetta themselves; they callously took my Ginetta away from me in order to race it at Cadwell in the MSVR Team Trophy. It only went and won, too. How cool is that? From the Autocar car park to a race win, and back again. Driven by Mike Simpson and Ian Parsons, it beat 20 other production cars, and with no modifications thanks to its fully integrated FIA roll cage.
You couldn’t get further from a £15k Romanian (or should I say French?) soft-roader in a forest than with the Ginetta. Yet both illustrated perfectly just how much more there is to cars than mere transport. I doubt I’ll climb into quite such disparate cars in the same week any time soon. Or have quite as much fun.