My Motoring Month

Teaching kids to drive in a 30-year-old Land Rover

I hated teaching my children to ride bicycles. It was less an opportunity for bonding, more a chance for me to lose patience and them various sections of skin. If trying to persuade a wailing four-year old to climb back aboard a bicycle is your idea of an afternoon well spent, good luck to you.

However, teaching them to drive is something else. I grew up in the Channel Islands and my father would often make a weekly commute to London. But instead of walking to the airport car park on his Friday evening return he’d go to Avis instead. When asked what car he wanted to hire he’d stipulate only ‘cheap and rear-wheel drive.’ My brothers and I would then spend all weekend charging round two unused fields at the back of the house.

I can’t recall them all, but I do fondly remember a 1.3-litre Escort for its ability to indicate 50mph in second gear, almost all of it wheelspin. But an MG Midget suffered most, not least because we had to test again and again its maker’s claim that those rubber bumpers would survive a 5mph impact. Come Monday morning he’d drive the wreckage back to the airport, innocently hand the keys back and continue on his way. He always thought he’d be caught, banned or billed, but he never was.

So now it’s my turn. I have the Land Rover in which I passed my test, and a 12-year-old daughter eager to learn.

In many ways it’s like teaching them to ride all over again. If you’re constantly barking instructions and grabbing the wheel, they’ll never learn. You need to watch them like a hawk but, so far as you can, let them get on with it. I thought she’d find steering the old girl most tricky but it was the clutch that provided all the trouble: if she was too sudden the car would naturally stall, but if she was too slow to lift her foot between gears the car would start to free-wheel down the hill.

A 30-year-old Land Rover is not the kindest introduction to motoring but though I tired of my father saying ‘if you can pass your test in that you can drive anything’ about precisely the same vehicle, I must now acknowledge he had a point. Learning to drive is great fun, but not half so much fun as watching your kid do the same.

The unexpected gem that is the Anglesey Circuit

Went to the Anglesey Circuit for the first time this month and now wonder why it took me so long to get to there. I’ve heard people singing its praises over
the years and especially since it was completely rebuilt in 2007, but for some reason never really focused on getting there myself.

I regret that now. Clearly for most of us it’s a long way to go, but with the A5 and A55 both converging on Anglesey to provide trucks access to Holyhead, it takes less time than you’d think to get there.

The circuit itself is a rare treat. Longer than Castle Combe or Donington minus the little-used Melbourne loop, its 2.1-mile lap comprises a terrific variety of challenges for the driver.

There are a couple of crowd-pleasing hairpins where you can demonstrate your drifting techniques until your rear tyres burst, there’s a Thruxton-quick right-hand curve (also called Church) and more than enough blind crests to tax your nerve and your car’s suspension.

It’s also truly beautiful up there: there’s one brow you go flying over and if you look in your mirror at the right time, you’ll see it full of the Irish Sea. Of course if you spend too long gazing at it you’ll miss your turn-in point for a tricky late apex left with a challenging camber change.

I’m not sure how the Anglesey Circuit earns its living or who paid for the place to be so comprehensively rebuilt. What I know is that it’s one of the country’s best tracks, and, I expect, still waiting to be discovered by most of us.

Jaguar Land Rover’s technical marvels

Had a quick and impromptu tour around the Jaguar Land Rover Engineering Centre in Whitley. The company doesn’t make enough noise about this place. There sit 3000 engineers beavering away at developing technologies that won’t be seen in cars for years. In another area are the design studios where cars like the Land Rover Evoque and the Jaguar E-type’s successor have been brought to life. Their biggest difficulty?

Getting enough quality engineers as the company’s ambitions spiral outwards. Amid all the economic doom and gloom, it’s refreshing to see a company with such a bright outlook.

Andrew Frankel