Now is the time to lay plans for the New Year, so here's the motoring fan's guide to 2014
Steve Cropley Autocar
1 January 2014

It's the new year, and you’re determined to do a better job of planning your driving life over the next 12 months.

Right now there’s an all-too-brief opportunity to lay plans for the year ahead, and this time you’re going to stick to them. But where to start? 

For 2014, we’ve done some of the thinking for you. We’ve come up with a list of car activities, ideas and destinations that should suit a variety of motoring palates and encourage fresh thinking. All you need to do is grab the idea and lift the phone, or engage the clutch. Steve Cropley is your guide

1. Stage a private driving day

Whether we’re talking Volkswagen Up, Range Rover Evoque or Lamborghini Gallardo, car makers work hard to create a special character in every car, yet few of us ever set out to appreciate what we own. Try it. Clean the windscreen, check your tyres, secure rattling objects, choose a great route. Even wearing the right shoes can make a difference. You’ll be amazed at the rewards.

Our suggestions

Drive the A272 - The 90-mile, two-hour trip from Winchester to Heathfield is a delight on rolling English roads. Correct timing is vital.

Visit Crickhowell - Autocar’s car-testing domain at the base of Wales’s Black Mountains offers superb drives in every direction.

Climb Mt Ventoux - Inspirational European drives are plentiful, but this famous hillclimb on public roads in southern France is one of the greatest.

Hire a special car

Why go through life regretting that your chances didn’t make you a billionaire? You can still have that special car – by renting it for a day or a week. Your advantage over the billionaire is that you’ve given it back long before deterioration or depreciation take hold.

Our suggestions

Drive a Ferrari at Goodwood - Or even a Jaguar D-type replica, thanks to Mithril Racing. Go to mithril.co.uk or email them on enquiries@mithril.co.uk for more.

Get a Morgan from the factory 
- Hire a Plus Four or 3 Wheeler direct from the marque, or from selected dealers. Go to morgan-motor.co.uk 
or phone 01684 573104.

Hire a holiday - Hertz has a special ‘Adrenaline Collection’ for people like us. Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro available, alongside the Ford Mustang. Go to hertz.com/rentacar.

2. Learn to drive (better)

One of the Great Truths of motoring is that the best-value pound is probably spent on driving tuition, not on enhancing your engine’s power. Tennis stars have full-time coaches; airline pilots can’t fly unless they’re regularly assessed. Adopt the same attitude and you’ll be a better driver.

Our suggestions

Drive a BMW M3 flat out - Palmersport will teach you at Bedford Autodrome. Try an M3, Atom, Caterham, Le Mans-style sportscar and single-seater. 
Contact sales@palmersport.com.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists is ditching its fuddy-duddy image to become an important provider of road driving modules such as parking and manoeuvring, motorway driving and winter driving. Go to iam.org.uk.

Learn to drive at the limit of grip - Silverstone Rally School has both half and full-day courses to teach you how to get to grips with the loose stuff. Have a look at silverstonerally.co.uk 
or phone 01327 857413.

3. Get your competition license

Car competition beckons us all, but many are spooked by the start with a driving test under the beady eye of assessors. However, for many competition codes, getting started involves simply filling in a form and paying a fee.

Our suggestions

Hillclimbing and sprinting - Explosive speed events that let drive your car flat out against the clock. Precision and good technique are needed; driving schools are advisable. 

Navigation rallies - The winners are those who keep up a brisk (but legal) pace while avoiding getting lost. It’s quick and fun, but WRC it ain’t.

Autotests - Spectacular to watch 
and a terrific test of precision and skill for competitors. Involves driving an agile car through a tight and complex set of manoeuvres against the clock.    

4. Meet your heroes

Gone are the days, people say, when you could casually rub shoulders with your heroes from motorsport and the motor industry. Yet it’s still possible for the persistent.

Our suggestions

Goodwood Festival of Speed - Car heroes love the event and gather for a day 
off. They’re away from their patch, not ‘fenced in’. Hang around the Driver’s 
Club and you’ll see many familiar faces.

Autosport Awards - End-of-year do features old heroes, team moguls and stars of tomorrow. Join them for about £450 a ticket or hang around London’s Grosvenor House hotel as they arrive.

Le Mans Classic - You’re in luck. 
This biennial event is held in 2014. 
It’s like the Goodwood Festival of Speed with added fatigue. But the stars come out, for sure.

5. Take your car on holiday

When airfares used to be cheap, it made sense to go on Continental holidays by air. But taxes and demand have sent fares soaring, and airport frustrations have made the convenience of your own car a downright privilege.

Our suggestions

Spain - Sure, it’s quite a long way, but when you arrive the roads (especially the new major arteries financed with EU dosh) are quick and fun. No hire car aggravation, either. 

France - This wonderful country is criss-crossed by some of the best motorways anywhere in the world (but watch out for speed cops), plus superb driving roads and great scenery.

Scandinavia - It’s a day’s drive to Denmark, and then the world’s your oyster. Depending on the time of year, you can enjoy ice driving, dirt driving or scenic drives along fjords. 

6. Making the most of your time

What do you do if you’ve got an automotive itch to scratch and limited time in which to do it? Here are three suggestions

Seven heaven

If the day is to be all about reinvigorating your relationship with the open road rather than reaching the end of your talent, you could hardly do better than borrow a Seven.

Caterham will give you seven hours to do 120 miles, starting from £175. I’d buy a bit more time and punt across Sussex to Petworth, use its market square as a stop-off and then let the Seven’s nose show me around the South Downs.

When fatigue sets in, it’s only a short spit to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, for a stroll among the ironmongery. Linger in the New Forest and the sun will set on the rear axle as you saunter home. Soup for the soul. (Nic Cackett)

Endurance test

If you’re going to Le Mans for the racing rather than the après-motorsport, it’s possible to do the trip in 48 hours. Set off before sunrise, catch the first train through the tunnel and hit France with the nav set for the campsite.

You’ll get there in time for the start, but the beauty of Le Mans is that there’s so much to do: food, drink, funfair or just watch the racing. Head to the pit grandstand in the early hours for an eerie spectacle like no other, or go to the nearby Dunlop Curves to see the brakes glow cherry red.

Grab a bit of sleep, watch the winning car cross the line, jump in the car and head back to Calais. This year’s race is on 14-15 June. (Stuart Milne)

Mull this over

The Mull Rally runs from 10-12 October, but you’d be advised to set aside a week to appreciate the Hebridean isle.

Reaching Mull makes for a fantastic day-long road trip punctuated by breathtaking scenery and a couple of short ferry crossings. Once on Mull, you can drive the roads that form the rally route.

Then there’s the rally itself. I’ve yet to experience anything in motorsport to match the atmosphere of sitting on a stone wall under a star-filled sky at 2am, watching headlights strafe the horizon and hearing the oncoming scream of a flat-out rally car. Recovery might require staying on for a few more days. (Matt Burt)

7. Learn more about motoring history

Wikipedia is fine, but there’s no substitute for reading the great books of motoring to see how cars and the industry evolved. Well known book dealer Kenneth Ball (info@kennethball.co.uk) recommends these three ‘starter’ titles – but he could go much further.

Encyclopaedia of European Sports and GT Cars, 1945 to 1980, £25 - A comprehensive, well researched book by prolific author Graham Robson. 

Encyclopaedia of Motor Sport, £45 - A massive book by eminent historian Nick Georgano with 500 entries on cars, 360 driver biographies and 160 race reports. 

Mostly Motor Racing, £20 - This fascinating book spans the author Rivers Fletcher’s life, the industry and driving in the vintage years.

8. Visit historic sites

Historic sites abound in Europe, but several have special relevance to 2014. For instance, Charles Rolls met Henry Royce 110 years ago next year, and two years later on the same site the pair decided to build cars together. Other such sites with motoring significance abound.

Midland Hotel, Manchester - Charles Rolls and Henry Royce met here 110 years ago to discuss building cars together. A plaque (pictured above) outside the hotel commemorates the fact. 

Maserati factory, Modena, Italy - The company, founded in 1914 by four Maserati brothers, started life in Bologna but moved to its present home in Modena in 1940, where all current Maseratis are built.

Peugeot museum, Mulhouse, France - See where Peugeot built its first-ever vehicle — a steam-powered three-wheeler — no less than 125 years ago. Its fine museum is not far from the famous Schlumpf collection.  

9. Do as we do...

Some of the more, er, experienced members of the Autocar team can recommend certain things based on first-hand experience 

Scratch the itchMotorsport doesn’t have to be something that other people do. Many years ago I went racing (motorcycles, not cars) in the pre-track day era, and I can still recall vividly my first race at Brands. To this day, racing changed the way I think about riding and driving. It will with you, too. So compete. Circuit racing, hillclimbs, a sprint. Something. Just try it. (Tim Dickson)

Winter WonderlandSorry, you’ll need a budget for this one. But everyone should trample through 6ft-deep snow drifts, slide across a frozen (but still noisily cracking) lake and then stand in a snow-covered forest to watch a WRC car come flying by broadside at 90mph, spinning its studded tyres to find unimaginable grip. Rally Sweden takes place on 9 February. (Jim Holder)

Appreciate the pioneersIn the deep freeze at the beginning of this year, I trekked up to a farm in North Yorkshire to see what’s believed to be the first Morris ever built. It was unrestored, completely original and 100 years old. It made me think about the inventiveness of the pioneers and the miracle that is the modern motor. My advice: seek out the very oldest cars, and marvel. (Hilton Holloway)

10. Buy a very silly car

Sounds expensive, right? But if the desire for an irrational car purchase is nagging away at you, may we suggest you apply the age-old test: ‘If not now, when?’ In any case, silly cars are often inexpensive. Some are cheap to buy; some hold their value. Many do both. 

An affordable classic - The first Ford Capri, Europe’s very own ‘pony car’, is 45 years old in 2014. Decent examples cost less than £5000.

A supercar - The term covers a multitude of sins, but winners such as the Ferrari 308GT4 cost around £30,000 and hold their value well.

A track day car - If performance is your bag, Atoms or Caterhams are low-loss options. Avoid cars with no pedigree and your cash should be safe.

11. Visit a car factory

Britain is blessed with an extraordinary selection of fascinating car plants. If big-scale manufacturing is your bag, there’s 500,000-a-year Nissan Sunderland, which rivals any in Japan or the US. If traditional construction is your interest, there’s Morgan, right at the other end of the scale. Or Rolls-Royce.

Mini - It’s fascinating that a car as modern as the new Mini should be made in Britain’s oldest plant, Longbridge, in Oxford. Book a tour at mini.co.uk (click ‘about us’).

Nissan - The Japanese car maker built 500,000 cars last year at its Sunderland plant, which makes the Juke, Note, Qashqai and now the electric Leaf. Contact planttours@nissan-nmuk.co.uk.

Rolls-Royce - Its Goodwood facility entertains visitors in groups. It could take a few weeks to arrange and you might be asked for a small charitable donation. Register your interest at enquiries@rolls-roycemotorcars.com.

12. Visit famous car museums

UK car making may at last be successful again, but we have the ‘advantage’ of a car industry that 30 to 40 years ago imploded under the weight of products that were ingenious but extremely badly made and developed. That legacy provides lots of meat for intriguing, nostalgic museum exhibits.

Coventry Transport Museum Based in the centre of Britain’s motor city, the museum charts the industry’s history; it has many ‘ordinary’ cars. More at transport-museum.com.

Donington Grand Prix Exhibition - World’s finest collection of historic and significant single-seat racers and motorcycles, latterly joined by a fine collection of military vehicles.

Jim Clark Room - Duns Trophy room in the main street of Duns, Scotland, has properties honouring the life and achievements of the double world champion. Go to duns.bordernet.co.uk. 

13. Explore historic circuits 

The world’s first permanent race circuit, the Brooklands banked oval, was opened in 1907 by a millionaire owner who fretted about British car makers having nowhere to test cars to the full. Other early tracks have diverse, fascinating stories.

Pikes Peak - Famous 12.4-mile high-altitude hillclimb above Colorado Springs in the US began life as a scenic drive, became a race venue and was only fully sealed three years ago. Find out more at ppihc.com

Reims, France - Famous triangular French public road circuit hosted 26 French grands prix. Its reinforced concrete pits still stand on either side of its longest straight. More at reims-tourism.com. 

Brooklands - Hugh Fortescue Locke-King’s huge banked track on London’s south-western approaches influenced many, including Indianapolis.

Drive famous routes

A big component in an enjoyable drive is having a special destination that many have enjoyed, written about and perhaps filmed. Makes it feels like hallowed ground. There are hundreds of examples, but here’s a popular threesome. 

Route 66 - Well trodden path for car-borne travellers linking Chicago with Los Angeles. Once called ‘The Main Street of America’.

Hardknott Pass - A superb piece of Cumbrian open road between Elkdale and Duddon Valley (below) that often lets a driver see two or even three corners ahead. Steep in places, but surprisingly well surfaced. Go to visitcumbria.com. 

14. Join a car club

It makes sense to bond, through clubs, with car enthusiasts who share your desires and enthusiasm, but that doesn’t mean you need be restricted to the one-make clubs that abound. Some are relevant whatever you drive.

Brooklands Trust - A club that bases most of its activities at the historic circuit site in Weybridge, Surrey, and raises money for its preservation. See more at brooklandsmembers.co.uk.

Goodwood Road Racing Club - Competition-based club holds a variety of activities for owners and offers members parking and viewing privileges at the Goodwood circuit’s often oversubscribed flagship motoring events. More at goodwood.co.uk.

Vintage Sports Car Club - Hugely energetic club that keeps its members’ love of pre-war (mostly pre-1931) cars very much alive. Organises trials, races, hillclimbs, sprints and much more. Details at vscc.co.uk

To hell with common sense

Man with a van - Ever since I saw Inspector Clouseau drive one into a swimming pool in The Return of Pink Panther nearly 40 years ago, I have wanted a 1950s Citroën 2CV AZU van complete with 18bhp, 425cc motor. Problem is they only seat two. How bad is my addiction now? Put it this way: I’ll have one in the shed within a week of the last child leaving home. (Andrew Frankel)

French fancyI hanker after the sales disaster that was the Patrick Le Quément-designed Renault Avantime. So futuristic did this strangely B-pillarless MPV-cum-coupé look at the time that the production designers of the 2006 science-fiction movie Children of Men cast the Renault as the mode of transport for the unfortunate UK residents of Earth circa 2027. (Gary Lord)

Back to realityI’d like to drive a DeLorean DMC-12 up to 88mph because part of me deep down thinks it really could travel in time. Please don’t think less of me when you’re trying to trust my judgement on an Astra diesel. But hey, when you’ve watched the Back to the Future films as many times as I have, you start to think that it really might be possible. (Mark Tisshaw)

Our Verdict

Lamborghini Gallardo

The Lamborghini Gallardo is the full supercar sensation with sublime handling

Join the debate

Comments
2

1 January 2014
I am surprised that nobody mentioned going over to Germany and driving round the Nurburgring. To this day it is one thing I regret not doing before emigrating to Australia and plan that one day on a trip back to Europe I will go over there, even if it's in a hire car and drive round at least once.

6 January 2014
I shall return the VSCC Harewood Hillclimb this year on my birthday weekend. A beautiful setting in Wharfedale and the car park is often more interesting than what's on the track.


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