To Solihull, by Ferrari, for the official welcome of the Jaguar marque to the famous Lode Lane plant that has been known, since 1948, as the Home of Land Rover. In future, aluminium bodies for Jaguar’s XE and F-Pace will be made in a magnificent new Solihull body plant before joining the Range Rover Sport on a similarly up-to-the-minute final assembly plant.
After some speeches, the company stopped operations so the whole workforce of 9000 people could line the roads of the plant to watch a cavalcade of 50-odd Jags from all eras, led by a Jaguar SS100, in which your humble servant was a passenger. It was a great moment, missing only the presence of Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth, who was visiting principals of the Tata Group (JLR’s owner) in Mumbai. Speth always shrinks from compliments about his achievements, but this sight would have made him proud.
Out of the Ferrari FF today (it’s busy) and into a Volkswagen Up Club, a move those who don’t care about cars as much as you and me would dismiss as a come-down. But it isn’t. The Up may be a few years old, but it remains a phenomenon among cars, a machine that beautifully expresses the virtues of smallness (agility, light controls, great visibility, amazing fuel economy, ease in traffic) and concedes very little to much bigger cars in refinement and comfort. Supercars are wonderful, not least because their creators have money to burn. But if you really want to witness and enjoy the resourcefulness and skill of the modern motor industry, start with an Up.
Flying visit to Porsche HQ in Stuttgart, for reasons soon to be revealed, but I can at least tell you that the trip involved being picked up from the airport by a company man in a Porsche 918 Spyder, driving it at 140mph on the autobahn to my meeting and subsequently lapping the impossibly tight and scary Weissach test track as a passenger in it at speeds of up to 170mph.
Frankly, the 918 is beyond amazing in the sense that the reflexes of its petrol-electric powertrain put a new cast on the word ‘instant’, and its cornering grip would be enough to lever you over the cockpit sides were it not for the harness and the superb shape and retentive properties of its bucket seats. Yet it’s remarkably ordinary in the way you troll it about town like a smooth, slightly bigger Boxster.
Porsche has always been brilliant about maintaining the ‘Porscheness’ of its creations – to the extent that once or twice I even felt a ghostly relationship between this exalted 2015 machine and the late 1980s 911 that for a few fondly remembered years served as our family transport.
Back from Stuttgart, I couldn’t resist boasting to colleagues about the cards and models I’d bought in the Porsche museum shop, near the original Zuffenhausen works.Stuttgart is an extremely car-minded place. Even in the airport shop, you can find Lego models of LaFerrari, the McLaren P1 and the 918 Spyder, all displayed together (left). For €50, you can own the lot – an irresistible bargain.
Drifting westwards at 65mph in the Range Rover Sport, heading for the Cotswolds and the weekend, I was passed on the M4 in the space of five minutes by a Mitsubishi Shogun Sport, an early Suzuki Vitara and a Daihatsu Terios.
It struck me that all this talk about the B-segment SUV being a recent invention is entirely wrong. Such cars have been available for decades, even if none of the named trio was very distinguished. It’s the demand from buyers of these cars that’s new. It just goes to show how affected the car market (and any other market) is by surges in buyer demand.