Every year Britain’s motoring hacks forgather at a windswept Bedfordshire test track for something that’s become a bit of a ritual.
This is the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ Test day, where car makers from MG to Bentley descend on a concrete apron of the Millbrook Proving Ground, with a variety of hospitality trucks and examples of their latest products to try.
I’ve been coming to the SMMT Test Day for a worryingly long time now, long enough to have experienced such long defunct cars as the Alfa Romeo 164, VW Corrado, Porsche 968 and the thrill-a-minute Daihatsu Move, when they were all in their prime. In fact, I’m so old I can remember when Millbrook was Vauxhall’s test track, where Vivas and Victors trundled round it.
Now, if you want to try cars back to back, in between overdosing on ground coffee, expensive biscuits and bacon baps, this is the place to be, and although the cars have changed, the format has barely altered. It also give writers like me the chance to try cars that in the normal course of events I wouldn’t get anywhere near.
One of the most interesting was the electric Rolls-Royce Phantom prototype. Batteries had replaced its vast petrol engine, and electric motors of the sort which power the Tesla drove its back wheels.
Being a prototype, its interior presented a curious mix of wood, leather and Formica. I piloted it round a handling circuit of tight switchbacks, dips, hills and nasty cambers, as a Patrician Rolls-Royce person said that as many urban Roller owners did small mileages and had other cars, a near silent electric Rolls would probably have a ready market.
One amusing touch was that the car’s ‘spirit of ecstasy’ radiator mascot was made of a translucent material and lit from beneath with a soft blue light.
Asked what this was made from, the Rolls person said, with impeccable sang-froid, ‘it’s a member of the plastics family.’
Once I’ve finished writing to you I’m heading for this year’s SMMT jamboree, where I can guarantee that there will be long queues for the exotics, but where cars like the reconstituted Vauxhall Corsa, which have thus far passed me by, will be easily accessible.
Afterwards my knowledge of these things, and my waistline, will both have increased.