SATURDAY/SUNDAY - Not every Saturday starts with a flight across Europe to Monaco, to pick up a bunch of interesting cars and help drive them over the Alps in time for the opening of the Geneva show, but this one did.
This was Vauxhall’s ‘Griffin Greats’ tour, run for the past few years and designed to alert hacks to the excellence of current Vauxhalls (notably the Adam Grand Slam and the Mokka with its new 1.6-litre Whisper diesel) and also to their ancestors (three Cavaliers, a Chevette HS and a Viva GT).
I’ve rarely learned so much on so many fronts in a couple of days’ driving. The Adam turned out to be one of those nippy, firm-suspended little cars that’s comfortable for hours. The Mokka diesel is refined, as much so as the 2.0-litre Insignia diesel in which photographer Stan Papior and I circled Europe a fortnight ago.
But the big surprises were the old cars. The Chevette’s handling was, even in modern terms, superb. The Cavaliers were much more modern and easy to drive than I expected. The Viva GT’s ride was so supple that I’m seriously considering launching a ‘Bring Back the 13in Wheel’ campaign.
It all served to make the point – without a syllable of blarney – that Vauxhall needs us to understand: these are good cars and have been for many years.
MONDAY - Into Geneva just in time to see Volkswagen’s Passat be voted 2015 Car of the Year. This is the third year the decision has been announced in Geneva, and the wisdom of the move was obvious: you can tell an event’s going well when the TV cameramen start fighting one another for good locations.
Some were disappointed about the Passat’s win, but it’s an excellent car, and the man from VW made a heart-warming speech. It was obvious he and his colleagues knew this was the award that counted, out of the ever-expanding clutter of car-gongery, and it is.
TUESDAY - Snatched 15 minutes at the show with Renault design chief Laurens van den Acker, who has masterminded such a huge change in Renault’s designs across the board, concentrating on human forms, that they now eclipse everyone in Europe (my opinion).
I’ve often wondered what Mercedes-Benz’s cars would look like by now had Daimler hired this inspired Dutchman half a dozen years ago. LvdA gave me a phone pic he’d grabbed of a Captur parked in a Paris street to show the enormous influence of correct colours and light-grabbing forms on modern cars.
WEDNESDAY - The wisdom of editor Jim Holder’s decision to anchor our F1 season preview to an interview with Sky’s expert summariser, Martin Brundle, was proved when I met the man in London. I’ve interviewed him a few times before, over the years, and the delight of it is always that when you pose a question, Brundle treats it with a seriousness that persuades you it’s something he’s never been asked to answer before.
It was such a pleasure to talk for 87 minutes (on my watch) that Stan Papior stayed to the end after his shutter-pushing was complete after 20 minutes or so. You can read the full preview here.
FRIDAY - My latest cock-eyed idea to find a cheap car to attack sprints and hillclimbs involves buying and improving a Mazda RX-8, the ingeniously packaged four-door coupé, powered by a 231bhp rotary engine, that you see in places like eBay at prices below £1000.
I’ve consulted Wankel engine experts and found that – as with all Mazdas – the cars themselves are bulletproof, but the low prices result from the engine’s propensity to break down. This does not have to be, say my advisors, if you treat them right. Much more on this (including their identities) when I’ve gathered the required info.