TUESDAY - Can never go within a 20-mile radius of Bromsgrove, where my friend Paul Matty operates a Lotus dealership, without calling in for the cup of tea always on offer. I first went there to gather material for a story just over 28 years ago – and finished up buying a pre-litigation Westfield Seven.
Over my next hundred visits, PM and I have established a routine: we always tour the stock and the curiosities of the workshop (this week’s curiosity: an Elan, for restoration, that had been standing for so long that its carburettors had been dissolved by the pee of car-loving rats nesting above them).
Saw two other great sights. First was the famous Esprit-based active suspension prototype, famously known as SID, which Matty bought last Christmas in order to give it a good home. Second was a very tidy late Elise S1 priced at £10k, quite similar to another I owned and enjoyed a decade ago.
WEDNESDAY - Awoke from slumber knowing I had to own that Elise. Paul had known it, too, but he never intrudes in customers’ decisions. We agreed the matter in a couple of minutes, whereupon I announced it more widely.
The Steering Committee (who might have been expected to jib a bit by those who don’t know her) was simply happy for me. Friends – and I include you in this – who have endured unending what-will-I-buy commentary were relieved. Me? I just felt (and feel) great. Two weeks and one cambelt and I’ll be driving my own Elise again.
THURSDAY - To the Millbrook proving ground, to sample a couple of cars I probably wouldn’t recognise if I saw them properly dressed. They were disguised prototypes of the all-new Vauxhall Astra.
It’s weird driving a car whose interior features you’re mostly not allowed to see, but the oddness of the situation was counterbalanced by the presence of Vauxhall-Opel’s chief car guy, Horst Bormann, who left me in no doubt about the scale of the firm’s ambitions for the Astra.
We know it must get smaller and lighter, Bormann said, which is why every new Astra will be 2.0in shorter and 120kg to 200kg lighter than before. These, alone, are very serious engineering achievements. Then I drove the diesel and petrol versions and was instantly aware of extra refinement, vastly better ride quality, greater agility and performance and lower suspension noise levels.
Oh yes, and clear improvements to the steering, gearchange and brakes. Vauxhall is determined to win the same level of respect it feels Volkswagen and Ford get from buyers in this class and is sparing no effort.
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