Slowly does it


The reality gap between my professional life as a motoring journalist, and my personal life as a car enthusiast has never been wider. So far this year I have driven both the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari, unquestionably the fastest road legal cars ever to be offered for sale by mainstream car manufacturers.

Get out of either into a conventionally quick car like a Golf GTI or even a Porsche 911 and you’ll think that in your absence someone has shoved a banana up its exhaust. These cars are so quick you not only have to adapt to their other-worldly performance but, like an astronaut coming  back to earth, when you return to reality to have also to re-acclimatise to the real world. If during this time you make the mistake of believing you can overtake anything, anywhere at any time as the P1 and LaFerrari seem able to do, the ramifications could be costly.

But this is also the year I replaced the space in my barn left by my recently departed replica Porsche 2.7RS Carrera with a 1958 Citroen 2CV. It joins the 1965 Fiat 500D that was already there and the Series III Land Rover in which I passed my test in 1982. Of the three the Landie is wildly the most powerful, packing an entire 70bhp under its bonnet.

I’m not sure how much power the Fiat has because opinions vary, but the best bet is 18bhp, which is a stunning 50 per cent more power than that offered by the 12bhp Citroen. Don’t laugh, if I’d gone for an even earlier car with a 375cc rather than a 425cc engine, that figure would have dropped to 9bhp.

This means my collection of old sheds can summon between them precisely 100bhp, the same as you get these days from a 1.4-litre Vauxhall Corsa.

Why go this way? It’s not the money. If you want a car that’ll do 150mph, buy a 20-year-old BMW 535i for little more than £1000 and it’ll take you straight there. Throw 20 grand at seeing how fast you can go – the price of a well turned out Ford Focus – and a turn of the century Porsche 911 Turbo will see you all the way to 190mph without issue. Which is fast enough for most.

For me however, the secret to enjoying driving in the future lies not in going faster, but slower. There are many reasons for this and the fact it increases your chances of holding onto the driving licence without which there’ll be no driving, pleasurable or otherwise, is just one.

Nor is it just that driving quickly on public roads is a pastime becoming increasingly socially stigmatised, nor simply that it has become an ever more unsatisfying pursuit as traffic levels rise and that traffic moves more slowly as people migrate from engine to pedal power. The simple truth is that on public roads you cannot safely drive a fast modern car to the limit of its ability. On the other hand if your car is sufficiently old and slow, that can actually be the only way to keep up with the traffic.

Old, slow cars are full of faults and foibles which mean it’s down to you, the driver, to make up the difference. Far from doing everything for you like most modern cars, they’re actually fairly helpless without you. They need constant, active management. This forces you to get involved and that way true driving pleasure lies.

They also make you a better driver. In an old slow car you’re always busy so you’re always alert. You know you can’t stop as well as modern cars so you always leave additional space; but you know also how hard earned is every additional mile per hour, so you learn how best to preserve them. Most notably, you’ll spot immediately that roads are inexplicably far quieter than when you’re driving a modern car.

But the explanation is simple: when you travel at approximately the same speed as everyone else instead of taking a few moments to leave one line of traffic and arrive at the next, it can take forever. Which means that as long as you can find a hole in the traffic, you effectively have the road to yourself, often for as long as you like.

Of course there will always be a place for ultra-fast cars, but it’s increasingly going to be on the track. I can hardly describe how much more I enjoyed driving the LaFerrari on a circuit than the public road, and perhaps counter-intuitively, how much less intimidating it was straight up to and beyond its limits in this environment, than trying to drive it merely quickly in public, which was a largely futile and frustrating pastime at least on the roads I was on.

So if you’re thinking of buying a car just for the love of driving just consider this for a moment: the slower you go the more fun you’ll have, and the longer you’ll spend having it.

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