In the first of what’s hopefully many thoughts from the female of the species, Jacky Lawler shares her thoughts on a day spent at the Millbrook proving ground during the annual Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders test day…
Would you like to attend the 2017 SMMT Test Day?
That’s what it said on the email. Mixed feelings when I got this invite to be honest! As er indoors I always like to give my significant other some space to go off on his own to these types of events and car launches where he can talk shop with fellow journo’s to his hearts content but for the first time ever I was sent my own Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) invite to play with new cars myself. So, the question was – should I go?
I learned very early on in our 13yr relationship that anything with an engine – cars, trains, buses, fairground generators you name it was of major interest to him. My role and usefulness has evolved over time when attending these events and I help by sharing the driving, providing instant pen and paper or business card when needed and more importantly allowing him to put all his clutter namely keys, phone, ibruprofen, water plus any collected brochures & associated bits of newly acquired auto jumble/tat into my handbag for me to carry around all day!
I wait patiently in the background whilst he talks all things “oily” with fellow petrol heads with their varying levels of know how, abilities and aptitude and I must admit here that listening to him talking still fascinates me. How he knows so much and that he can answer all their obscure questions is amazing and yet, back at home, he forgets the simple things like that the fact that the green bin has to be put out on a Thursday night! But I digress.
At these big motoring events I would see other car mad guys, eyes bright, jostling against each other around the shiny displayed vehicles eager to take that perfect picture. Once done, they stop and chat a while to those on the stands sharing their anecdotes of memorable autos and tales of engineering woes, always somehow fixed against all odds. Long since scrapped, they will delight in telling you the registration number if you ask them and although full of bravado when telling their tale, the emotion of still missing that little car shows in their faces and a moist eye gives them away.
But then I see their wife/partner standing quietly behind them with a dishevelled look that tells me they were also up at 5am to travel here, her heavy handbag full of his stuff just like mine and we’d give each other the same sympathetic look and smile, a moment of nothing being said but acknowledging we were both doing the same, following our much loved men for miles around brightly lit exhibition halls. So much for The Spice Girls and their so called girl power!
Now don’t get me wrong, I totally believe that behind every successful man is a strong partner, Ray Winstone says this of his wife in many interviews he does and Arthur Daly was another prime example! I am actually very happy with this set up which works well for me. I have a good career of my own as an Account Manager in field sales for a Blue Chip Logistics firm – can’t say who but Pullman Brown is our colour. I guess I both live and work in a male dominated environment.
My knowledge of cars isn’t bad either. As I am field based, I drive a company car, a recently sourced 66 plate navy blue VW Passat with cream interior which I have to say I’m in love with having had 4 company golfs on the trot beforehand. This in mind however, it is worth noting for future reference that my dream car is the new shape Land Rover Discovery. I’ve never gotten over mourning the loss of my Java Black TD5 when we lived up in Darlington many moons ago so this is on the top my wish list if he ever makes it big!
Having done my apprenticeship as a “camp follower” around these events such as Pride of Longbridge, The Peterborough BL Show, The Goodwood Festival of Speed & Moving Motor Show together with numerous NEC classic car/restoration shows and bus rallies it would appear that I have actually gained a lot of knowledge myself – probably purely by osmosis! So to set the scene this SMMT invite came into my inbox completely out of the blue. An invite personally for me, not as a plus one, so this was my chance to do my own car tests and share my own opinion for what was worth so I replied back: “Yes, thank you for the invite, I’ll be delighted to attend“.
After the usual 5am start from West Sussex we arrived at Millbrook for my first ever SMMT Test Day and I have to say the site looked great. All the key car marques were there with their own individual stands, flags flying high in the bright Bedfordshire sunshine. It was a beautifully colourful scene. Each had its brightest and best new cars out front set to impress and available to all who wanted a drive to take them out on any number of routes providing the car had the right colour sticker for that route on the window.
There was an alpine route which is all hills and sharp bends (famous scene in Casino Royal was filmed here where Vespa is tied up and left in the road and nearly run over by Daniel Craig as James Bond in an Aston Martin) City route (lots of roundabouts for urban testing) and a really fast speedbowl which is 4 lanes of varying speed limits the highest being 100mph which banks up at the top of the bowl like a motorcycle wall of death! There was also an off road route which the 4×4’s could be taken on and it looked from the state of the cars coming out if there that this was a very muddy experience.
After the safety briefing and having picked up our passes which unfortunately showed in large letters for insurance purposes that I was over 25 – I am in fact just over double that so it could’ve been worse, it was difficult to know where to start. I naturally gravitated to the JLR stand with all the stunning Land Rovers and Jaguars all lined up like smart soldiers on parade but I decided to save the best for later. In the end it was a Vauxhall Crossland X which we took out first. To be honest I had really liked the Vauxhall Mokka X which we had had at home on test a couple of months ago so I maybe wrongly compared this to that and this was nowhere near as well finished off or styled. So we said our thanks to the lovely Vauxhall people and went off to the Honda stand.
There I saw a lovely bright “Rallye Red” Honda Civic VTEC Turbo EX and it was my chance to take it around the alpine route. It only had a 1ltr engine but my goodness it was nippy, with snappy styling, really great driving position and it held those alpine bends like a Caterham 7 so what’s not to like? Leather interior 11 speaker audio, dual climate control and heated front seats which we definitely didn’t try out on the day as it was a heatwave For £23k on the road it seemed very competitive alongside its peers as a car that would be great for town or motorway and for me I think it looks great, very sporty so I would vote this as my car of the day.
We next drove a silver DS5 sports version which responded well to the tight bends as it had a firm suspension and overall also had an impressive look. It was good to hear that this sexy DS brand was launched independent to the main Citroen brands to push its own destiny forward as a bright star with its futuristic styling and the latest sparkly intelligent 21st century programming. We had a DS5 on test at home recently and I have to say it’s a crowd pleaser and has definitely grown on me.
To be honest, I wasn’t a great fan of French cars myself as by association I would always think of teachers having them. My music teacher Mr Baker had a white one shaped liked a huge whale which smelled of his lovely pipe tobacco and he had to wait for it to rise up before he could move off. I remember thinking this would be useless as a getaway car as I sat patiently in the back clutching my guitar wafting along to yet another local old people’s home alongside my 2 school mates for yet another sing song of Daisy Daisy & Kumbyah! Bless him, he was a lovely man and he loved that car.
Back to SMMT, others driven on the day were too many to list but included a large Volvo (lumbering limo of a car hated that) an MG3 (still not convinced about this brands longevity) and an Electric Renault Zoe which was surprisingly good and hammered its way around the alpine track really well. However at the end the on-board readings showed we had used 16miles worth of power during a short 10 minute drive – oops! I finished the day as I had promised myself with a spin in the all new Discovery, the cherry on my cake which was fabulous and ticked all my boxes just in time coincidently for afternoon tea and a piece of lemon drizzle in the main building – win!
Well, to sum up, the day was emotional. I now completely understand why people are so passionate about the joy of driving new cars. All the different makes of cars on one day gives you much more of a perspective and does honestly leave you with a buzz of wanting to do this again. The weather was also glorious which just added to the day but we were hitting around 28 degrees most of the time so I admit it was great doing some test drives just to get in a car with the air con going!
So I hold my hands up and agree that after my SMMT Test Day experience I totally understand why he loves being involved with this industry. So if he wants to do Peterborough BMC & BL show later this year I will be there. Look out for me, I’ll be the one just behind him smiling sweetly with the heavy handbag and carrying a cool box full of sandwiches and pop. Ask me about my SMMT day though and I may just give you my “er indoors” honest opinion – if you are lucky.