Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Around this time, people across the country will be reflecting on what they achieved in 2008. It's a yearly ritual I'm often a bit reluctant to carry out, for fear that I haven't really moved on much in the last twelve months. But not this year.
Skipping back, almost to the beginning of January, I found myself on a desolate, wind swept, ex-RAF base on the eastern tip of Essex. I'd gone there, in place of my day job at Ford, to write an article on the Piper GTR track day car. The wind was icy cold, but I couldn't care less. I was about to step into a mid-engined sports racer for the first time, write one of my first 'proper' articles and experiment with my new digital SLR. Life was good.
The following month was dominated by the arrival of the TVR. It was the first time I'd really gone out and searched the country for a pristine example of anything. The long, loud, top-down drive back from Humberside set the tone for disrupting the peace of the countryside and, the best part of a year later, I remain utterly chuffed with the purchase.
There was a brief return to normality before things went into overdrive in the spring. In May I attended my first work placement at MSN Cars in London. The following month I had the great pleasure of revisiting them for the Lotus Elise versus Honda S2000 twin test, not to mention attending Autocar's drift school at Silverstone and acquiring my own garage (to secrete yet more cars in) with the new house. The pace didn't slacken for July and August either, which saw me attend further work placements at Evo and Autocar, carry out my first proper road test with the mighty AMS Murtaya and apply for my first fulltime job in journalism.
And so, in September, between road tripping around South Wales and making my first pilgrimage to the Nurburgring, I made the switch from automotive engineering to writing. It's since led me to Modenna, Maranello, Cologne and Florida to name a few. As predicted, it has entailed at least twice as many working hours and rather less than half as much pay, but you know what? I'm hooked.
If this sounds self-indulgent (even more than usual...) then that's because it is. I've marked too many New Year's Eves with the dull realisation that I haven't moved on in any meaningful way, but this time I feel justifiably proud of what I've achieved: Nought to journalist in sixty weeks... here's to maintaining that momentum.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thunder in The Tunnels

A 'small informal' TVR gathering comes to the streets of London

It's 4:30am on a dark, murky November morning and the roads are slick with their winter sheen of perma-damp. Normally I'd enjoy the idea of deserted tarmac, but right now, I'm just desperately trying to wake up on my way to meet the rest of the Hertfordshire contingent en route to the Thunder in The Tunnels TVR run.

A cereal bar and a healthy dose of caffeine at our South Mimms rendezvous does the trick and I'm soon part of the thunderous convoy into making its way into the capital. The general damp has given way to a full on downpour, but to my surprise the S3 remains bone dry inside and really rather civilised. There's plenty of time to check for leaks as an accident on the A12 - fortunately not one of us - holds up our arrival. As a result, once we're moving again and nearing the start point, there are already cars roaring past in the other direction. A group of us elect to perform a hasty u-turn and join the main part of the run.

For a while there’s nothing other than flame-spitting TVRs flying left right and centre in the dark, otherwise-deserted streets. There’s a sense of mischief about it – like Satan’s little minions let out for a night to wreak havoc. Confusion reigns and after a couple of runs through the Limehouse Link and Rotherhithe tunnels, we come round a corner to join a stationary bunch of TVRs regrouping. As one of the cars at the front starts to move I elect to join him, but rapidly it dawns on me that no one is following.

Maybe the guy I've chosen to follow isn’t on the correct route – for that matter, maybe he’s decided to go home for some reason? Still, having zero knowledge of central London I elect to tag along. We stooge round for a while before pulling over and (after brief introductions) hazard a guess at where we’re actually supposed to be heading. A few minutes later, driving down an equally unfamiliar road, we spot (or rather, hear) a silver Sagaris up ahead as it darts into a side turning. Upon approach the turning just looks wrong – narrow and well-concealed, it seems more like the entrance to a car park, but sure enough it's another tunnel there's half a dozen TVRs parked up inside.

I get out to stretch my legs, take a few photographs and meet some of the other tunnel runners – during which time the main group of cars shows up with a thunderous roar. First comes David Hughes, the organiser, in his bellowing supercharged Chimera 500, complete with flags and banners. Following him, a stream of Cerberas, T350Cs and Wedges come past, with an ear splitting burst of acceleration, followed by sheets of flame popping out the exhaust on overrun.

After looping back for a couple of more runs, David gives the order to move on. By the time I’ve got back in the car most people have already gone and then… silence. I try to start it but the starter motor won’t engage and it occurs to me that leaving the lights on wasn’t the smartest move. After sitting with the lights switched off for a minute and playing with the immobiliser I finally manage to coax the S3 back into life and head off behind an enthusiastically driven T350C that’s making one last run through the tunnel.

I follow it to the next re-grouping point in Battersea park, where bladders are drained and cars are dreweled over. Fortunately the rain has now stopped and the sun has just risen, making it an ideal time to survey the hundred or so TVRs assembled in this automotive art gallery beside the Thames.

The next leg takes us through the city. Again confusion reigns as the traffic lights conspire to separate me from the pack. I make an impromptu U-turn after spotting a Cerbera coming in the opposite direction and fortunately he appears to know where he’s going. We carry on to Whitehall – looping round around Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square. The police seem to be paying rather more attention to the proceedings now, but the good natured (if somewhat spirited) driving is treated with discretion – proof positive that we’re much better off with real coppers than revenue-generating cameras. In fact, I suspect they were largely there for the fun of it.

As the regrouping concludes, the entirety of Pall Mall is filled with TVRs on both sides. It's a fitting climax to our little early morning drive through the capital and a sight to behold. The final part of the run takes us underneath the gloriously echoey A40 elevated section, through West London and on to the famous Ace Cafe. The car park and beyond that, the road, the adjoining roads and every other available scrap of tarmac rapidly fills up with TVRs, while the kitchen goes into overdrive supplying cooked breakfasts and bacon butties to a couple of hundred hungry petrolheads.

Surveying the scene I can't help feeling pride in my six cylinder 'baby TVR'. It acquited itslef very well, both in terms of noise and performance, compared to its V8 bretherin - not to mention a couple of non-TVR interlopers. It performed faultlessly and remained a very pleasant, comfortable place to be in the cold, wet conditions. What's more the event had been great fun and a fine chance to meet some like-minded (and equally mascochistic) fellow enthusiasts. In the end it was more than worth crawling out of bed at such an ungodly hour. I would, however, recommend a can or two of Redbull before setting off next time.