The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs...
Great driving days, remember those, happy memories from before the great lockdown? If you can’t drive your classic car the next best thing is to read about driving adventures and planning for the future – there will be a future – and then I remembered we have a messiah in our midst, a leader and saviour of the cause. Graham Eason owner of Great Driving Days and the provider of one of my most enjoyable days behind the wheel.
Looking back at what I wrote following that adventure the opening paragraph seem almost prophetic but well worth repeating for an audience who may have missed the original story.
Old cars are infectious but not in the sense of Cholera or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, although judging from the interiors of many old cars that I have ‘rescued’ you do wonder if some of the mysterious sticky items found under seats and compressed into the upholstery could maybe herald (no pun intended) a breakthrough in medical science if only my attention span at school had not been so easily distracted by the sound of a Capri 3000 GT two streets away.
Possibly though as a result of my failure to become a pioneering rocket scientist, I found myself with an invitation to visit an anonymous industrial estate populated by men wearing hi-vis jackets, in Redditch. It’s difficult to speculate what any of these industrial units contained, as the oversized sign boards attached to the buildings gave little indication as to what industry might be happening inside, but whatever it was could almost certainly be restrained with cable ties, tied with gaffer tape, wrapped in plastic sheets and transported in a Mercedes Sprinter van.
Fortunately my destination was the home of Graham Eason’s, ‘Great Driving Days’, easily identified by the eclectic mix of classics from the 60s, 70s and 80s arranged on the forecourt in a formation probably referred to by the Red Arrows as a ‘Shuttle Flanker’. In the workshop, future projects greeted visitors along with a stainless steel tea urn and large bag of sugar and on this day a gathering of people who feed our motoring habit with words that paint pictures and hold a shared affection for vehicles where patchy paintwork crosses the divide to become patina and dubious smelling interiors blurred the senses into believing petrol vapour could actually be old leather, all merging to suggest a life well lived.
This eclectic group represented a broad cross section of ages, beards and Converse trainers, occupying their days as journalists, writers, film makers, extreme marathon runners and a few other occupations that don’t appear on the tired list hawked around schools by weary careers advisors. All were ‘car people’ invited to experience a Classic Road Trip around the Cotswolds (coffee and cake included) driving a selection of cars from the Great Driving Days fleet.
Graham explained that experience had shown him many people like the idea of driving a classic car but only for a short while before the realities of draughts, rattles and contortions required to get in and out of cars that were designed for driving rather than transporting a wardrobe or crashing, become less of an amusing quirk and more of an irksome irritation.
We were than split into pairs for a shared experience and given an (almost) idiot proof road book – (it was not the fault of the road book that we were laughing so much we missed the turning) – before being pointed in the direction of a Final Edition 4 litre Jaguaaaaaar XJS, with walnut sideboard and soft blue leather gentlemen’s club chairs.
The 100 mile route was divided into five stages over which the driving and navigation duties would be shared between myself and ‘The Bear,’ a fur coat which probably has more social media followers that I could possibly dream of, however its owner/occupier, Keiron proved to be most amiable company for the day.
Failing at the first hurdle we had to ask for help to lower the electric roof, which was simple enough for a child to operate. It might not have been the warmest of days but if the top could come down that was where it would be and we were off, cocooned in the warm wafty comfort of the Jag. Keiron and I quickly established a shared history of dubious car ownership, purchased not for their potential resale value but more for their patina and ownership experience. As we pursued a Triumph TR6 up the hill to Broadway Tower for our first stop of the day, we discovered that one of the amusing features of the XJS was that whilst kick down blurred the change into a lower gear perfectly, it simply generated louder purring from the six cylinders without any increase in momentum.
By the completion of the first stage, affection for these cars was clearly developing as drivers and passengers exchanged first impressions whilst casting envious glances towards their next drive. Having warmed our hands with coffee, our next ‘experience’ was the Saab 900 Turbo. My first car as a teenager was a two-stroke Saab 96, followed by a v4, I still have a soft spot for a Saab, even though I haven’t owned another one since but have often thought one with the turbo script on the boot could be entertaining.
To say the Saab was quirky was exactly the point of this experience, I knew there were five gears because there was a diagram on the top of the gear lever that told me but I never found them all. My excuse is that the last Saab I drove had a steering column gear change and freewheel, but Keiron did to demonstrate they were definitely in there somewhere. The whoosh of the turbo though was contagious as was the mind-bending the surge towards the horizon or maybe that was just the torque bending the direction of travel to an unexpected destination. We completed the mid stage driver change in the company of the silver Porsche 996, falling out of the Saab convulsed with laughter and tears staining our cheeks they must have felt slightly cheated that the 911 was providing such an efficient and reliable form of transport.
Next stop, Caffeine & Machine. This is the living embodiment of ‘The Field of Dreams,’ build it and they will come, a destination for everything with wheels from a lawnmower to a Lamborghini and all that falls inbetween. The impression certainly appears to be of one big harmonious society, a shared celebration of, in their words ‘the lowered and the uplifted,’ served with burgers, chips and coke from the bottle.
And into the next car, dark blue, cream leather, 400bhp supercharged V8 Jaguar XKR, another convertible so again we had the clouds scurrying overhead or maybe the clouds were stationary and we were smoothly dashing along underneath. We were going to stop at a caravan park for the photo shoot before realising that it wasn’t a caravan park in the holiday sense but a location that would be more likely to feature in the BBC TV series This Country. Deciding caution is preferable to rash bravery when it comes to big angry dogs, we stopped on a picturesque hillside instead to take some biscuit tin images of the Cotswolds.
Well Keiron did, all I got was a Jaguar silhouette in front of the sun and some hill shapes. It was also at this point we realised that we could be perfect presenters for Top Gear and that it was probably the easiest job in the world, put two enthusiasts in a car and as sure as Wile E. Coyote will chase the Road Runner there will be an endless flow of opinions, laughter and irreverence.
At the next change over we slipped into our drive of the day, the pale blue V12 Jaguar XJS Coupe, by now we’d had enough of fresh air motoring and cranked up the thermostat on the heated seats. This car was a delicate delight, the gear lever a thin chrome magic wand, the whole driving experience just engendering a sense of wellbeing and good will to all men, at least until I tried a cheery wave of acknowledgment to the rider of a horse, sharply and painfully stubbing my fingers into the windscreen that Graham had thoughtfully made spotlessly clean, disguising how compact even big V12 examples of older cars are. Making our final approach to Bidford Airfield for the last vehicle change of the day we passed the Triumph Herald convertible, dispatched with a royal wave because we were in a Jaguar and gliding on the wind.
Reluctantly handing over the keys to the XJS and waving goodbye to the flying buttress, we stood around making small talk, even more envious of ‘the bear’ as the afternoon temperature cooled, before discovering that our final drive was ‘round the back.’ Parked incongruously beside the Biffa bins was an Imperial Blue Mondeo ST200 (if someone called it Deep Reflex Blue I wouldn’t argue) but an iconic Ford colour from the heady days of manufacturer financed British Touring Cars in the 90s in unmodified condition and full of blue ovalness.
What is it about Ford enthusiasts that they feel the need to modify something to within a hair’s breath of becoming an explosion of white hot metal when engineers have spent a lot of time and effort developing something as good as this. In Italy young men are more interested in whether the front seat of their Fiat will fold flat, perhaps that is the definition of natural selection? From the turn of the key the V6 settled into a lovely smooth burble, the gearbox action was slick and fool proof, the steering sharp and direct – the Mondeo just shouted ‘drive me.’ It was so involving we did two laps of the ring road before returning at the end of a great driving day, because it was that much fun. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t spend my money on a Ford Mondeo and that is the whole point of Great Driving Days.
They buy them, store them, maintain them, in fact Graham and team do everything and all you have to do is drive them, just one car for a special occasion or a selection of your choice for a jaunt around the Cotswolds. The thing about classic cars is they all have their own personalities, quirks, peculiarities and smells, not all good and some slightly life threatening, but if you drive with an open heart and realistic expectations they are all tremendously entertaining and will leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling, or maybe that was just the heated seat in the XJS?
As the assembled gathering milled about the workshop exchanging stories and anecdotes of the day, it was like the end of a really good party where the guests knew it was time to go home but couldn’t quite drag themselves away. I had come to the conclusion quite quickly that just driving five cars was never going to be enough, taking one last look around the workshop it was obvious that I will have plenty of excuses to return, Graham is still investing in the future (or is it the past). There is an unusual Lancia Trevi, worth saving just for the dashboard, an Alfa Sud that hadn’t turned to oxidized dust and a GTV6 all waiting in the
My advice is when this is all over get in touch with Graham and organize an experience, feel the wind in your hair and flies in your teeth and remember what it is like to feel alive. Actually, my advice is get in touch with Graham ‘NOW’ and beat the rush because when we are allowed back out of our front doors everyone will be keen to reawaken their passion for classic car motoring and memories of simpler times.
Or in the words of Toad and Kenneth Graham: The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here to-day, up and off to somewhere else to-morrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing!