Magazine article The Spectator

Journey's End

Magazine article The Spectator

Journey's End

Article excerpt

It has been a good motoring year, save in two respects, and even if this proves to have been the last such on earth and next year we're back to 1209 and riding Shanks's pony, memory will sweeten privation.

First among the highlights was driving a Routemaster bus (Spectator, 24 May). What a creation they were (and shall be again -- Boris? ). Like Harry Ferguson's tractors and traditional English shotguns, they were a thing so perfectly fashioned to their use, with such economy of design and consideration for the user, that their very utility became their aesthetic. The Routemaster is superbly comfortable to drive -- all right, you can't hear yourself speak, but there's no room for anyone else in the cab anyway and you could sing all day without bothering the passengers. It's the armchair position, the angle of legs to spine, that big, easy, flat steering wheel, the mechanical gearselector, the great round indicator switch and the long-travel handbrake that do it.

Everyone gives you all the room you need as soon as they see you, so that even a first drive through Guildford on a busy morning is a physical pleasure. They're slow but not cumbersome, and somehow they teach you manners. Perhaps we should all be compelled to take our driving tests in them.

Next was the unforgettable trip to Le Mans with Aston Martin (Spectator, 21 June). It wasn't just blasting round the circuit a couple of times in the new V8 Vantage -- something I'd love to repeat, this time knowing what was happening -- but the atmosphere, the excitement and the sprawling, peaceful anarchy of the place. It's been called the most popular British (sic) race of the calendar and so it must be, with its tented masses and the extraordinary convocation of ancient motorbikes and cars. After the race one of the victorious Aston drivers evoked with poetic clarity his midnight stint when he and the car flew as one, when every line on every corner was where he wanted it and he felt supreme, relaxed, god-like, happy to go on all night if they hadn't called him in. But when he returned for the 4 a. m.

stint all was changed utterly; it was raining, he was edgy, uncertain of his lines, made unforced errors on every lap, the car felt a stranger to him and he lost time. Not as much as the Corvette opposition, it turned out. Maybe driving is like writing: how it feels when you're doing it is not always a sure guide to how it is. …

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