Ok, so having a 7am alarm and actually waking up 45 minutes before said alarm would not go down as a perfect start to a perfect day for a lot of people, but Rachel made me a cup of tea for me to consume while still in my bed, and that seemed to set the scene for a rather lovely day.
The plan was to head to a car auction in Staffordshire, where I would meet fellow Autoshiters for a game. That game is pick seven cars, in seven different categories and aim to ‘spend’ as little as possible by following the hammer prices. Autoshiters were heading down from as far away as Glasgow just to take part – one hero drove down from Glasgow, in a Citroen AX! He left at about 3am. Crikey.
I only had a two-hour drive by comparison, and it should have been easy. However, I hurled my sat nav away after it refused to acknowledge the existence of Cannock and so would rely on my memory. Naturally, I didn’t have a map in the car. Despite this, I decided to see if I could remember the scenic route from Newtown to Shrewsbury that ignores the A458 via Welshpool for some rather more entertaining roads.
This plan had only one significant failing. I took the wrong road from Newtown and ended up heading south. I knew Builth Wells really was in the wrong direction so quickly took the B4355 from Dolfor to Knighton. I was in Knighton yesterday, so I knew I didn’t really want to be heading in that direction either, but it was better than Builth.
By golly! This road is INCREDIBLE! You are never travelling in a straight line. It’s just bend after bend, with altitude changes thrown in for good measure. Fortunately for me, I was in exactly the right car too – my Honda Prelude 2.0i automatic, purchased this very week. Driving on the motorway to get the car home hadn’t really given me chance to discover just how good it is, but now was its chance to truly shine.
The steering is just perfect. The weighting of it could not be better, and assistance just helps. It somehow doesn’t managed to rob too much feel. Yet it’s also wonderfully direct, so you don’t have to turn the wheel very far. The rather firm suspension which had been bothering me, was now absolutely ideal. The Prelude felt taught and responsive, and changed direction beautifully. It was really starting to inspire confidence, and I shocked myself a few times as I exited a corner and glanced at the speedometer!
This was despite me holding back somewhat due to the conditions. Mud and water do not make an ideal racetrack. Public roads are dangerous places to hoon. I was having to rein in my enthusiasm a little. Drive quickly, but not too quickly.
I’m not sure if I’m just getting older and more accepting, or whether I really have finally started to buy cars that I really enjoy driving, but this was truly something special. There’s very little I’ve driven from the past 20 years of production that manages to convey this feeling of utter joy.
You’d think the automatic gearbox would be a hindrance but far from it. I didn’t bother with sport mode, but I just flicked into third gear on the approach to tight-looking bends. It saves the brakes form overwork and gives much better control, ensuring you’re already in the right gear when you want to apply power rather than waiting for the gearbox to catch up. Amazingly, the gearbox is happy to use the torque of the engine, and I found I only went above 3000rpm on steep climbs. Like the XM, this makes it relaxing while also remarkably quick. But it feels much more nimble than the XM – the big Citroen always feels big. And heavy. It’s remarkably capable for a luxurious barge, but a barge it truly is – one with a lot of weight up front.
At Knighton, I joined the A488 which heads via the painfully pretty town of Clun and on towards Shrewsbury. This road had plenty to recommend it too with some seriously sharp corners lurking to catch out the unwary. By the time I reached Shrewsbury, I was exhausted! It had been one of the best drives of my life, and I still wasn’t anywhere near the end of my journey. Now the Prelude could just waft along at motorway speeds with no drama at all.
It gave me chance to reflect on the morning’s experience so far. It made me realise that overlooking the 2-litre, especially in slushbox form, is utterly wrong. Would I have had as much or more fun in a manual VTEC? I’m not sure I would. The VTEC effect gives a massive boost in power as you get beyond 4000rpm, but that can quickly get very tiring – not to mention illegal. 60mph can be some way in the distance very briskly indeed. I suspect that every time I got a VTEC on cam, I’d be straight on the brakes hard for the next bend.
As it was, I was using my momentum-conservation skills learned through many years of 2CVing to keep the Prelude at a good pace without the need for harsh acceleration. There really wasn’t room for it anyway! Bends were coming so thick and fast that power absolutely would not have been any advantage at all. I was having all the fun it was possible to have, while remaining at entirely legal speeds. To be honest, I was below 50mph for quite a lot of it!
I arrived in Cannock in a very dirty Prelude, which had very clean brake discs. The filth was almost a badge of honour that had been deservedly won. Though considering I’d washed the car the day before, it was a little annoying…
Part 2 to follow – auction antics! It’ll have to follow as I’ve clearly got a bit carried away here. Sorry.