What on earth is that?! Driving a DRK

I get to drive a lot of cars, but this one was a true surprise. Especially as it is Renault-powered and I was at a Citroen event. What is it? It’s a DRK – a three-wheel component car which uses a Renault 4 (or in this case 6) drivetrain and front suspension.

That means that it looks (at a very quick glance) a bit like a Morgan 3-wheeler, but is in fact front-wheel drive. This one belongs to a nice chap called Dan Fletcher, who is well-known for liking his cars a bit different. And colourful. It must be said, despite its tiny dimensions, this is not a car you’ll miss in a hurry.

This is a DRK, and it's lots of fun!

This is a DRK, and it’s lots of fun!

DRK built cars in Cheshire, but not very many of them. 59 were produced between 1986 and 1998. Buyers got a very nicely finished kit car, but had to source their own mechanicals. Hopelessly rotten Renaults proved the perfect donors.

Clambering aboard is the first challenge. There’s a hot exhaust pipe to contend with and you have to slide one leg in, drop your backside onto the seat, then shuffle across so you can pull your other leg in. Once behind the wheel, the driving position is low and fairly comfortable – I found the throttle pedal was a bit too close for perfect points to be awarded.

Note upside-down Renault 6 gearlever. Very nicely finished inside.

Note upside-down Renault 6 gearlever. Very nicely finished inside.

The gear lever droops out of the dashboard like a Citroen Traction Avant, simply being the standard Renault 6 lever, but turned upside down. That means that the H pattern is reversed – first is forward and twisted towards the steering column. The handbrake is to the right, with a Dyane indicator switch squeezed between the wheel and the edge of the dashboard. There are other switches. I never did find out what they did.

To drive, there’s very little clue that there is only one wheel at the rear. It’s only when you hit potholes that you expected to straddle that you get a clue. The steering is deliciously direct with tons of feel, and you can watch the mudguards bob around with the wheels. You can even watch the driveshafts rotate. You certainly feel very exposed, even with the unusual rear canopy.

The engine, 1108cc in this case, pulls very strongly from low revs, but has a wonderful exhaust note as you keep your foot down. It isn’t ludicrously quick, but it is satisfyingly brisk. It doesn’t leave you really craving anymore, because being so exposed means you really do feel the rush of the breeze as you hurtle along. 60mph feels much faster than it does in say a Jaguar XJ6.

DRK rear

Canopy not standard fitment. Eye-catching! Needs a rear-gunner.

Turning into bends at speed, it feels remarkably stable. Having the engine so far back (behind the gearbox) must help here. There’s not too much weight slung out front and what weight there is sits very close to the front axle line.

The ride is perhaps a little bouncy, though I was testing the car over particularly undulating roads. The front suspension retains the torsion bars of the 6, which are probably used to a little more weight. The rear wheel uses a DRK radius arm with a telescopic damper/coil unit.

It has to be said though, it all feels very solid. That’s because these cars were very well built when new. You really did get a complete car bar the engine and gearbox. A steel chassis is mated with beautiful, aluminium panels, so it certainly isn’t a plastic-bodied lash-up.

I reached the end of my drive feeling like I’d want to spend a lot more time with this car. It’s about as practical as a paper cagoule, but if it’s fun your after, here’s a relatively unknown vehicle that can really deliver.

Brakes: How wasteful!

One of the biggest problems with electric vehicles is that they really highlight how wasteful ICE (internal combustion engine) cars are. When it comes to generating pointless heat, road vehicles are wonderful!

If you're going to have the future, have it fully electric

ICE versus Electric. Which one generates most waste when it comes to heat?

Take braking for instance. We just take it for granted that we press a pedal and the world gets less blurry. What we’re actually doing is taking the momentum we’ve built up with an inefficient petrol/diesel engine and converting it into heat. If you don’t believe me, drive down a long, steep hill with your foot constantly on the brake. Then have a good feel of your wheels. Careful – they may be VERY hot.

Then there’s the engine itself, which mostly turns fuel into heat. Great in the winter, because it keeps us cosy, but also great at warming the air around the vehicle. It’s what radiators are for.

Electric vehicles on the other hand tend to have regenerative brakes. The electric motor becomes a generator, recharging the batteries and providing a strong engine-braking feel. In a car such as the Nissan LEAF, pressing the brake pedal gently strengthens this effect, causing the vehicle to slow. Only if you really stamp on the pedal do the actual brakes kick in – which some folk reckon can cause the brakes to simply seize up through lack of use!

Sure, you don’t get something for nothing, and you’ll not put back into the battery what you took out accelerating, but it really does help extend range – as I recall all too well from our Nissan e-NV200 Roadtrip. To be honest, that regen was the difference between us making it home, and running out of juice in the middle of nowhere.

Eeek! It stopped predicting mileage at this point

Very low on juice in the Nissan e-NV200 Combi. Regenerative braking enabled us to get home.

But this still leaves me driving in ICE vehicles, realising how wasteful it is to brake. I haven’t driven an EV since November, but this feeling is very hard to shake!

It’s exactly the same feeling I get driving in traffic. Now this really is where the EV shines. Come to a stop, and all is silent and serene. While you’re not moving, or even when pottering along gently, you’re using barely any energy at all, while an ICE vehicle would still be turning its engine over at around 1000 times a minute.

As you may have noticed then, I’m still rather fired up about EVs. They’re still tantalisingly out of reach, though there are some great deals out there. I’ve seen brand new LEAFs offered on contract hire for as little as £150 a month for two years including battery hire. £3600 to hire a quite revolutionary vehicle for 24 months. That still doesn’t fit my meagre budget, but it must surely be tempting for a lot of people, especially if the household has a second car that can be used for mega-mile trips.

Anyway, here’s another chance to see my review of the Nissan e-NV200.

Road tax: Testing the system

I managed to get myself in a wonderfully stupid situation in March. I found myself owning three cars. I found myself owning three cars that all needed road (or rather vehicle) tax at the same time. I had just purchased the Perodua Nippa for a start. That required taxing because now, when you buy a car, the new owner needs to tax it straight away.

Road Tax

Cor. Remember those funny discs we used to have?

Unfortunately for me, six months previously, I had purchased the XM. Which as the new owner, I had to tax straight away. As I could only afford six months of tax at the time, it explains why I had a second vehicle needing tax again. The 2CV was pure circumstance, though a frustrating one. I knew the MOT ran out on 15 April, but the tax ran out in March. I needed the 2CV to be on the road for an event I was organising (in which my 2CV led a convoy of other 2CVs) over the Easter weekend, so I would have to tax that too. Fortunately, the new Direct Debit system would save me from instant bankruptcy! Firstly, the Perodua needed taxing immediately, so I went online and it was all very easy to sort out. I didn’t actually tax it at the point of purchase because I couldn’t be bothered. I drove home, then went online and did it – this is only safe to do if the car you are purchasing had tax at the time of sale. If the car was SORN, you’ll be driving home in a car that shouts I’M SORN! to any passing Police car or ANPR camera. My new Perodua would simply show as taxed, as the V5 had not yet reached the DVLA to indicate a change of driver. I’m sure an arsey copper could argue that having a green slip of V5 proved that the transfer had taken place, but I’m a risky type and drove home over 100 miles without due concern. I digress. The Perodua was taxed, and two weeks later, the first payment was taken. I was glad of the breathing space, as that was after pay day! I know it was only £9.72, but every little counts. I waited a bit longer to tax the Citroens, as they already had tax in the eyes of the system. You get a couple of days grace into the following month anyway, but I went online to carry out further transactions before things got naughty. There was a further delay before £20.12 (XM) and £12.77 (2CV) left my account. In fact, it was sufficient delay for the MOT to have run out on the day the first payment went through! You do seem to get a couple of weeks delay before the Direct Debit takes your money. Naturally, by then, I had declared the 2CV SORN as there’s no point keeping a car taxed if it has no MOT. Come the end of the month, direct debits for the Nippa and XM were deducted, but there were no further payments for the 2CV. Perfect! My two weeks of motoring had cost me £12.77 and, unlike with the previous tax disc system, I had not have to apply for six months, then request a refund of five months once the MOT lapsed. In effect, I just paid for the single month I needed. For sure, it would be better if you could just pay for the actual days used (I ‘lost’ two weeks due to the MOT running out) but you know what? I’m not going to complain. Sure, there are still flaws to this system – the double-payment as buyer and seller tax a car in the same month for instance – but credit where credit is due, this new system does actually appear to work. I shall not mourn the tax disc. I removed them as soon as I could. The DVLA just might have made a step in the right direction though, so I hereby doff my hat. Thanks.


NOTE: There is an additional 5% charge for paying by monthly direct debit. This is the same premium as choosing to pay for six months at a time. You can also choose to pay by annual direct debit.

Technology takes away all of the fun

My Land Rover Discovery 200Tdi perfectly summed up how the 1980s/1990s was a peak time for the motor car. They had become very good at many things, but weren’t burdened by over-complexity. How different the current Discovery is! Packed with computers, with an engine that’s barely accessible for some jobs with the body still fitted to the chassis. Dare I say it, but the fun of off-roading has gone too.

Land Rover Discovery any good off road

Low tech is more fun. Computers are not required.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the current Discovery isn’t any good off road – far from it. It’s amazing what it can drag its heavy, shiny body through with barely any driver input. And there’s the crux of the problem. Where’s the fun if the vehicle is doing all of the work for you?

I absolutely loved testing my Discovery in off-road conditions. The long-travel suspension and lockable centre differential certainly helped when things got really difficult, but there was never any doubt that you still needed driver skill to cope with obstacles. I had to choose my line very carefully, and control the throttle input with hairline precision to avoid wheelspin and a loss of traction. I had to anticipate the terrain and take into account many variables, ensuring I was in the right gear at the right time. All challenging but great fun. I don’t really want a car where all I do is steer and let the computers sort it all out. I might as well play at driving on a computer game.

Mind you, it must be said that some off-roaders don’t seem to have much faith in their own skills. They bolt ever more kit to their 4x4s until they look like something out of Mad Max, then get annoyed when they get stuck. Especially if someone in say, a completely bog standard Land Rover Discovery (or even a Ford Maverick) gets through a section with no bother at all.

If all that gear is so necessary, why is that you can still see people having lots of fun in a near-standard Series One Land Rover at trials events?

No, you can keep your computers, snorkels, huge tyres and suspension lifts. When it comes to off-roading, I find you can have just as much fun in something older, simple and bog-standard – and stand a chance of fixing it if something breaks!

Go another way – two-finger salute to Starbucks

I absolutely hate motorway service stations. They’re almost all utterly dreadful – Tebay Services being the very notable exception. It’s on the M6, up north, and even has an organic farm shop.

Most of the time though, it’s all big-brand blandness. Hideous prices, for food that’s about as interesting as a lecture on carpets of the 1990s. Starbucks are good at this, selling some of the most horrible sausages I’ve ever encountered. I reckon they’re safe for vegans due to being 99% sawdust. Then they charge you the earth, then fail to pay any tax on their copious profits. Arseholes.

So, faced with a long trek from Cornwall to home after a family holiday, I decided it was time for an alternative. We had no time constraints, so why not get well away from the motorway and see what else we could find? Cheddar seemed an ideally-placed location for a break, being about two-hours away from our start point.

A curious, and delightful place for a spot of lunch.

A curious, and delightful place for a spot of lunch.

We paid an entire 60p to lodge the XM in a car park, then wandered about town. This quirky arts cafe struck us as an ideal place for lunch. We got the feeling it had only just opened. The floor was made of what looked like old pallets and cable reels, as were the table tops. Lots of arty stuff filled the walls and lunch was served upon roofing slates. It was delicious though. I had superb cheese on toast, while Rachel enjoyed a bowl of soup. There was a huge range of tea on offer and yes, the place mats were old vinyl singles – I got Jive Bunny while Rachel had to cope with Jason and Kylie.

Rachel also bought a mug – a fine selection of pottery was on offer – and including that, we spent just £20. I’d imagine lunch for two would swiftly approach that at motorway services, and would be utterly horrible!

Getting back to the motorway included a pleasant detour along beautiful country lanes (we didn’t explore the gorge this time). We continued until thirst encouraged us to take another break. This time, we were approaching the pretty town of Crickhowell in Wales.

Crickhowell was overflowing with classics.

Crickhowell has plenty of appeal as a stopping place

I’m guilty of having passed through this town many, many times without stopping. More fool me, because it’s a lovely place, with lots of independent stores (and a current campaign to stop Tesco invading the town). Having free, one-hour parking is a smart move too. Park up, stretch your legs and head off again. Perfect. Making the most of such opportunities means leaving the comfort of known brands. Yes, you can buy a coke if you must, but I was of a mood to avoid nasty chemicals – namely sweeteners. So, we explored a few shops before I found what I was looking for.

No, I'd never heard of it either

No, I’d never heard of it either

Brilliant. This amounted to little more than fizzy water with some lemon juice in it. It certainly packed quite a punch, while being nicely natural. It has to be said that the fizzy orange was rather less punchy. It felt good from a taste point of view, and from a ‘supporting the small-time player’ point of view.

I’ll certainly be attempting to keep up this avoidance of rip-off motorway services. Why do so many people put up with paying so much for so little? We’re idiots for our ‘convenience’ ways really. We so often put time-taken ahead of quality.

Not that we’d necessarily have saved time on the motorway. It looked like this just before we came off.

Stationary traffic. Ugh.

Stationary traffic. Ugh.

So, I think I shall keep up my plan to avoid motorway services unless I really have to. After all, fuel is usually much cheaper on normal roads too. We’ll see how we get in with our next roadtrip – Ripon in Yorkshire.

Writer’s block?

I seem to have been a bit quiet on the blog of late, for the simple reason that I can’t think of a lot to write about. I can’t say too much about what I’ve been up to with my XM, as you’ll be able to read about that in Classic Car Buyer (and Classics Monthly from time to time). The Perodua continues to be used for bimbling around, so there’s not much excitement there either.

XM has already been on one long trip, with many others to come.

Of course, the car I love to talk about, my 2CV, is now sitting in my garage looking rather miserable as she awaits better financial circumstances and a much needed restoration. This is where the low-income lifestyle falls down rather.

Not that things have been too bad of late. I’m currently working part-time for the community transport group nearby as well as continuing with writing work. It’s been really nice to exercise my brain on something very different from the world of classic cars. Believe me, the amount of legislation you encounter when running a fleet of minibuses is quite something to behold!

I suspect this is one reason my blog posts have been less numerous recently. My brain is getting a proper workout pretty much every day of the week and on top of that, I’ve been doing a fair dose of volunteer minibus driving recently too. I’ll confess another reason may be that I’m posting more and more on Twitter. It takes far less brain power to construct a 140-character post than one consisting of hundreds of words on my Blog.

Do stay tuned though. There are some meaty roadtrips to look forward to this year (a result of owning thrifty motor cars and having a little more money), possibly even overseas. If I can find my passport.

The truth about rural living

This country is allegedly getting too crowded. I say well if that’s the case, why are rural properties so hard to sell? I know of several in my village that have been for sale for a long time. Why don’t people want to live here?

So, I thought I’d take a break from automotive rants to tell you why you might want to consider living a long way from busy cities.

Community life leads to much tea drinking

Community life leads to much tea drinking

Firstly, a few downsides. Work is probably the main consideration here. It isn’t easy, though I know people in cities who struggle to find work too. The chances of finding a job here that you really love doing are fairly slim. There are two options. Either find a job you can do working from home (yes, the countryside does have actual internet – 2.5mbps in our house) or accept that you might end up having to do a job which isn’t on your dream list, but which allows you to live somewhere marvellous. After all, an awful lot of people end up doing jobs they don’t necessarily love, even in more populous parts. That said, I do live in an area where incomes are typically on the low side. But, the views are free!

Secondly, if you’re the sort of person who loves to shop endlessly, or go clubbing every night, then you’re probably better of sticking to city life. In the countryside, life is at a different pace, plus there aren’t many shops or nightclubs. In fact, just grabbing a bottle of milk may require a drive of several miles. Convenience isn’t something you encounter very often, but it does feel more wholesome to be forced to plan. How many different tasks can you bolt on to that weekly trip into town?

Sometimes, the views cause a writer to not find words

Sometimes, the views cause a writer to not find words

That’s enough of the negatives though. What are the plus points? Well, this is a case of luck, but find somewhere really nice and you’ll get a marvellous sense of community. I’m pleased to say that we certainly have that here in rural mid-Wales. By and large, the incoming English and established Welsh get on very well, and there’s a great spirit amongst the people living here. The English tend to want a better quality of life, while the Welsh already have it!

You have to be prepared to make the effort though. A major turning point for us was going to a tea party to celebrate the Royal Wedding. Now, it’s fair to say that the monarchy isn’t something we really agree with. We certainly don’t care very much for it and wouldn’t normally consider going to a celebration of that sort. But here, if you want to meet people and get involved, you have to be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. That day, the occasion didn’t really matter. It was just an excuse for the community to get together. We drank tea, ate cake and met people who have become close friends. You then start hearing about other events and start meeting more people, and it all snowballed from there.

Getting involved with a community minibus scheme helped too, and certainly helped me get a better idea of the geography around here – and pronunciations! I remember sitting in an office in Solihull many years ago struggling to get the village name Ysbyty Ystwyth across to a chap in an office in the North East. Now I can very nearly pronounce it perfectly. It’s a few miles away.

We have friends of all ages now too, from teenagers to 80-years and beyond. We don’t just chat with neighbours over the fence – we pop around to each other’s houses for tea, or even Christmas dinner. We go to agricultural shows now, and spend more time at our local (the Hafod Hotel) than we ever thought we would. We’ve never even had a local before. Not one we felt we wanted to spend any time in anyway.

For a petrolhead, there’s sheer joy to be gained every time I go for a drive too. Loads of National Speed Limit roads, with barely any traffic on them (apart from tourist season!). Mind you, there is danger – stray sheep, cyclists, pedestrians, huge drops, fallen trees and tractors – you really do need to have your wits about you and remember that the roads are not just for cars having fun! Driving a minibus full of passengers allows me to enjoy the roads in a very different way – taking time to absorb the fascinating views that lurk around every bend, and marvelling at the lack of potholes as I drive as smoothly as possible.

Lovely! I drove it sans trailer tent

This is great driving country, as several car-loving friends have discovered!

It feels a very different life. It feels like going against the grain – ignoring the trappings of the life that consumerism would have you believe you should strive for. It really isn’t different though. This is how I wish more people lived. With community spirit and a real passion for life and less focus on must-have things that folk would have you believe you need. Who needs foreign holidays when living here is so amazing?. It isn’t perfect, and it can be very hard work at times. But, the reward is that inspiration can be found the moment you step through your door. While some sacrifices do have to made for this lifestyle, after a while, they feel like no sacrifice at all.

Perodua settles in

I somehow missed marking the first month of Perodua ownership, but I feel our tiny hatchback deserves a little more recognition.

This really is a tiny motor car. Boot surprisingly big.

This really is a tiny motor car. Boot surprisingly big.

To recap, this 24,000-mile wonder was purchased for £300, and needed only a steering rack gaiter in order to gain a fresh MOT. I have given it a service and it has been put into regular service. I can’t say I’ve been driving it that often – in fact I haven’t been able to get near it this week as it has become Rachel’s default driving option. I do marvel at the fact that my wife cares not for Bluetooth, bling or a big accessory list. Instead, she wants no power steering, no electric anything and dinky dimensions. The Perodua Nippa more than delivers.

I have to say, as long as I’m not travelling too far, I really do enjoy driving the thing too. It doesn’t beg a thrashing in quite the same way as the Sirion did – a car which only seemed happy when the rev counter was above 4000rpm – but it is still fun to drive it quickly. Well, it feels quick when you’re inside it. I’m sure if you’re the bored person in an Audi TT the other week following me, it doesn’t seem quick at all.

Nippa with the car it is temporarily replacing - my rusty 2CV

Nippa with the car it is temporarily replacing – my rusty 2CV

That means that somehow, this little Malaysian hatchback is channelling the spirit of the Citroen 2CV, MG Midget and Austin Seven. It helps maintain the fact that many MPH is not necessarily what you need for many funs. The steering is remarkably Mini-like, which I’m sure is one reason that Mini-fan Rachel likes it so much. It’s exceedingly direct around the dead ahead, so it darts from one direction to another like a startled rabbit. In fact, it is perhaps a bit too twitchy and it can be hard to maintain a straight course. Not that there are many straights here in rural Wales.

Only the poor ride lets it down, but the creaking from the back end leads me to wonder what state the dampers are in. Perhaps a little expenditure would be wise. Here is where the difficulties lie. This meant to be a cheap, throw-away runaround. That wasteful style just isn’t me though!

The scary thing is that, along with the still-marvellous XM, it seems my last two vehicular purchases have actually worked out rather well – for a grand total of £675. Obviously, I’m ignoring subsequent expenditure of parts/labour there. I prefer man maths! Still, it’s a long time since I’ve been so happy about cars I’ve bought. Long may this continue!