Friday, July 3, 2009

New arrival

It’s said the best things in life are worth waiting for. Yet, a month after the TVR had gone I was about to starting to dispute that. Mid-summer had come and gone during one of the hottest and sunniest periods of recent years, and all the while the B-roads were sat quiet, empty and inviting, yet I had nothing to play with.

Finally, yesterday, that was put right. After a bumpy ride which had seen me looking at the best part of a dozen cars and nearly buying two I eventually struck gold, or rather metallic blue, in the form of an ex-competition car from Scotland. It was built to contest Roadsport A – at the time the fastest class in the Caterham Cup – and features a very healthy spec including a close ratio 6-speed gearbox, limited slip differential and Minister-built 1.6 Supersport powerplant.

Waiting for it to arrive on Thursday morning I sat with some trepidation. The car was coming all the way from Argyll and I’d never seen it in the flesh before. I’d spoken with Mike, the seller, at some length and poured over endless photos, but there was still a slight anxiety about how it would appear in the flesh.

I needn’t have worried. Yes, it bears a few battle scars up close, but it’s actually in remarkably good condition for a retired racing car. Its bodywork glinted in the morning sun as we offloaded it from the trailer and the engine burst into life with an enthusiastic rasp as I headed off for the maiden voyage. In my haste I’d elected to leave the sidescreens in the garage, along with all my tools; both of which turned out to be a mistake.

First impressions were of a very rapid little car. In theory the engine produces the same power output as the factory Supersport, but in reality the Minister unit felt distinctly more athletic. That said, the impression of speed was greatly exaggerated by the lack of sidescreens, which I rapidly learned was a big mistake. Above about 50mph I had to squint to try and maintain my vision and as the national limit approached there was a very real chance of my glasses taking off.

That, however, was the least of my worries as, a few miles later, the rear bracket of the exhaust decided to detach itself, leaving the tailpipe skimming the road. A couple of superficial burns to my hand and a makeshift bracket constructed out of an old shoelace later I was ready to go. Unfortunately, the car was not. The dreaded ‘Caterham click’ issue had struck, ceasing the starter motor and leaving me stranded.

My first reaction was to try and overcome it with some more volts and it just so happened a van had recently pulled up at a nearby house. I went over to ask if the driver had any jump leads and it turned out not only that he did, but also that he was a former Caterham racer and member of the local motor club. My luck seemed to be improving. A simple jump start got the car running again and the improvised exhaust mounting saw me home without incident.

I probably should have left it there until the exhaust was fixed, but temptation got the better of me, and that evening I headed out for a quick blast. It turned out to be a truly phenomenal drive - one of those really gratuitous occasions where you don't even kid yourself you're going out for a pint of milk, you just hoon around childishly. I didn’t go off to anywhere far flung and I didn’t seek out any particularly epic roads, but just buzzing around the local B-roads in the warm evening sunshine felt sublime. It was pure automotive indulgence.

Arriving back in time for a nice cool beer I felt eminently satisfied with my purchase. True there are a few things on the ‘to do’ list, not least the exhaust, but I seem to have bonded very rapidly with ‘the wee car’ as its Scottish builder used to refer to it. Evidently it was worth the wait after all.

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