Watching Le Mans is an endurance sport; Driving Jaguar's Lightweight E-Type; Can Alfa Romeo recover this time?
Steve Cropley Autocar
29 June 2015

SATURDAY/SUNDAY - Exhilarating, exhausting weekend at Le Mans, watching Porsche achieve its first outright win in nearly two decades.

Disappointed with the failure of the Aston Martins, usually Britain’s GT bulwark against Corvette, Ferrari and, er, Porsche. Next year, Ford will be part of it, too, which is going to make the famous old event unmissable, if it wasn’t before.

If you’re used to Bernie-style motorsport, Le Mans always strikes you as wall-to-wall chaos, yet it works and there’s no mistaking the love people have for the race and the annual pilgrimage.

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest has claimed a new record attendance of 263,000 people but failed (as usual) to note the even more amazing fact that more than one-third of those – close to 100,000 souls – drove over from the UK. I went by Aston, and in 600 miles saw only one lethargic-looking carload of gendarmes, so for once those stories of speeding Brits being frogmarched to cashpoints seemed to be exaggerated.       

MONDAY - Early trip to Jaguar Land Rover’s design centre at Whitley, where a couple of us were smuggled into the super-secret prototype shop to see the million-pound ‘continuation series’ Lightweight E-Type chassis being built.

Then we were swept to the Heritage workshops at nearby Browns Lane in a whispering XJR to see the car in trim and final assembly, before continuing to Heathrow for a flight to Bilbao, where we were to drive both the E-Type and the production-ready F-Type Project 7 on the nearby Navarra circuit. Bed at midnight after a busy day.

TUESDAY - Up early for one of the most memorable double-drives of my life. The beauty of this northern Spanish region and the magnificence of its well-surfaced and deserted roads made me wonder (again) why more of us don’t simply climb into our cars and head for this place, for dedicated days of driving on routes we have chosen beforehand, with a bit of quality eating and talking thrown in.

WEDNESDAY - Land Rover has started talking about its two-millionth Defender, to which I was allowed to fit the bonnet on the Solihull production line about a month ago – with much help from a couple of obliging technicians who do this job 106 times a day. As I’ve discovered before, jobs like theirs are far harder and more detailed than you think they’re going to be.

Lots of people have fitted components to this special Defender, the most prominent being adventurer Bear Grylls, who said: “The Land Rover Defender has been there for me more times than I can remember.” He’s likely to be on hand when the Landie is auctioned for charity by Bonhams in London during December, the same month the 67-year-old icon ends UK production for ever.

THURSDAY - Decades ago, in another life, I dimly remember writing what I reckoned was a well-argued story entitled ‘The Sun Also Rises’, all about a forthcoming recovery in Alfa Romeo’s fortunes. It was well sourced and well illustrated, readers seemed to like it and I felt proud. Except that the recovery never happened and neither did the one after or the one after that.

Now we stand again in what hacks are bound to label Alfa’s last chance saloon, waiting for the arrival of the all-new rear-wheel-drive Giulia. If I could have just one motor industry wish, it would be that this car is beautiful, desirable and, above all, successful, selling out of its skin.

We all remark on the enduring prestige and value of the Alfa brand, but surely it’s time for the actual car-building operation to perform.

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30 June 2015
Junket after junket. How can anyone be impartial? No one in business is allowed to accept these types of gifts any more. A weekly magazine in a digital world. Time to change. I predict this magazine will close in two years unless something changes.

30 June 2015
"the same month the 67-year-old icon ends UK production for ever"

The 'UK' part? Does this mean that they will move the tooling, and continue production in India? It would make sense, as the minimal safety regulations and low labour costs there would be ideal for continuing production.

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