One of the ‘perks’ of publishing a lifestyle magazine like The Vintage Magazine is that you occasionally get to drive some of the most wonderful cars, eat the finest food and drink the finest wines in the best restaurants, and stay in the best hotels, so I thought I would write a ‘Review’ of the past year to record and remember some of these experiences.
When we started The Vintage Magazine, 18 months ago, I was looking for a suitable Motoring Correspondent and Editor for this section of the magazine, and I was fortunate enough to persuade George Robinson, a former European Go-Karting Champion, to take on the task. His knowledge, help and advice have been invaluable in compiling and publishing these articles and reviews about a wide range of cars as he is able to put them through their paces, and write the assessment and technical report, whilst I tend to concentrate on the aesthetics of each model.
In his first article for The Vintage Magazine in July, 2012, George demonstrated a natural shrewdness when he cleverly identified the investment potential of restoring vintage cars; he wrote, “We hear so much about economic gloom and the current climate that I find myself bored to taking alcohol. I was always told in what I remember of geography lessons, that the climate in the British Isles was temperate and would always remain so. However, let me get to the point. The present economic situation has led us to a protracted period of low inflation, low interest and low returns. There has never been a better time to look outside the usual investments to see a sound, reliable and significant return.”
He went on to extol the virtues of having an investment which you could actually use, and derive pleasure from, whilst watching it appreciate in value. This prediction has been proved to be absolutely correct, which is why you will find his article listed under Investments in our Business & Finance Section entitled, Driving Your Investments.
I would also like to thank our photographer, Doug Garvie, for all the wonderful photos he has taken of nearly all the cars we have reviewed. It has been a great pleasure to have worked with them both over the past 18 months. Much of our fun together has occurred over many memorable lunches at some great restaurants and hotels. More of them later, but the one constant venue was The Thomas Lord our very own award winning pub and restaurant in West Meon Hampshire where we took all our cars for evaluation from the ‘locals’.
We started the year in great style with a ‘Special Edition’ Aston Martin ‘Vanquish’ built to celebrate100 years of superlative auto engineering, and what a way to celebrate!
The Vanquish is an astonishing feat of design and engineering of the highest order, and its elegant styling makes it stand out from its rivals, so who would not have enjoyed driving this mean machine through the lanes of some of the most beautiful country in Britain; the Cotswolds, and staying at the Ellenborough Park at Cheltenham, with its great views of this iconic racecourse.
As you can see, the Vanquish looked really good sitting outside the entrance to this beautifully restored Cotswold country house hotel.
Aston Martin Vanquish and the Ellenborough Park, Southam Lane, Cheltenham
We then drove south, enjoying the opportunity to use just some of the extraordinary power under the bonnet in the form of a six litre V12 engine.
The next day we visited Lainston House near Winchester, which is as good as it gets for Country House hotels, with its magnificent beech avenue stretching into the distance, and the beautifully proportioned Georgian house, with its lovely forecourt.
Lainston House, Woodman Lane, Sparsholt, Winchester Hampshire
We then progressed to a slightly more practical Mercedes ‘M’ Class, people mover, and it did not fail to impress as we drove it down to the West Country, visiting an old friend at Dartmouth, and then driving across Dartmoor, where the ‘M’ Class could hardly fit into some of the smallest lanes, but we managed to get to our destination, the Endsleigh Hotel near Tavistock, sandwiched between Dartmoor and Exmoor.
Mercedes M 350
This was the Duke of Bedford’s hunting, shooting and fishing lodge, set in a stunning valley, surrounded by hundreds of acres of landscaped gardens, now being lovingly restored by the new owner, Olga Polizzi. We first went there in April, and having seen the extraordinary gardens, determined to return in early May, when all the rhododendrons and azaleas would be out, and this we did on another trip to Cornwall to research for our feature on the Top Ten Beach hotels in the West Country.
Endsleigh Hotel, Milton Abbot, Tavistock, Devon
This Top Ten includes Endsleigh’s sister hotel, the fantastic Hotel Tresanton, created out of an Edwardian Yacht Clubhouse and overlooking the harbour and castle at St Mawes, opposite Falmouth.
Hotel Tresanton, St. Mawes, Truro Cornwall
In early June, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit James Martin, the celebrity chef at his home in Hampshire, and to spend half a day being given the guided tour of his fabulous car collection, which fills a courtyard of vintage garages, from which these gleaming examples of the automotive art emerged, one by one, as my old friend and classic car enthusiast, John Belsey, asked all the right questions, and he and James talked cars for hours!
James Martin, celebrity chef in his Benson Hedges sponsored Jordan Peugeot
Formula 1 car 1997 by Giancarlo Fisichella
There followed something of a ‘purple patch’ with us road testing and reviewing a series of the most amazing cars, starting with a Rolls-Royce Ghost, but the extended wheelbase model which was perfect for ferrying our friends to the Opera at Grange Park in Hampshire. This is the site of a Palladian mansion, set in grounds landscaped by Capability Brown, and including the obligatory lake in the verdant Candover Valley.
The Rolls Royce Ghost, extended wheel base – the only way to travel to the Opera at The Grange, Alresford
The Rolls-Royce ‘Ghost’ is a magnificent motor car which completely ‘wowed’ us with its understated elegance, superb workmanship, extreme comfort and its phenomenal performance, with its 6.5 litre V12 twin turbocharged engine propelling just over two tons of motor car from 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds, and with its top speed electronically limited to 155mph!
We also took it to the Kennels at Goodwood, which seemed the perfect place for it, as it was built only a few miles away on the edge of the Goodwood estate. Lord March has a private parking space in front of The Kennels, but we mere mortals had to content ourselves with the car park in what was part of the original walled garden.
This was swiftly followed by a really fun car, the four-seater Maserati Gran Cabrio Sport, which was just begging to go to London, to ‘show-off’ in the Kings Road. So we obliged, and four of us drove to my favourite Italian restaurant in London, ‘La Famiglia’ in Langton Street at World’s End where Chelsea meets Fulham, and we introduced one Italian icon to another; Alvaro Maccioni, met the Maserati, and there was huge mutual respect! Italian Icons, Alvaro, the legendary restauranteur and the red Maserati GranCabrio Sport – both so Italian!
Sadly, Alvaro died six months later at the end of November, so I am pleased that we made the effort to go and see him, and that my last memory of him was in the garden at La Famiglia on the perfect summers day. You can read about his astonishingly successful career by clicking on the photograph or reading the article on Pasta Pioneers.
Amberely Castle Arundel, West Sussex
We also took the very modern Italian Maserati to the very medieval Amberley Castle, in West Sussex, now a luxury hotel and part of Andrew Brownsword’s eponymous hotel group, many of which came from the Von Essen hotel group, which, sadly was forced into liquidation two years ago; an early victim of the recession, although its owner, Andrew Davis will not be down for long!
Our next outing was with the deliciously decadent Bentley Continental GT, which certainly lived up to expectations, and we took it to the equally delicious Park House Hotel at Bepton, just south of Midhurst nestling at the foot of the South Downs, which was basking in summer sunshine when we were there in June.
The Bentley Continental GT at Park House Hotel and Spa
at Bepton, Nr. Midhurst West Sussex
This very stylish motor car has even more impressive stats than the Rolls-Royce Ghost, with its 6 litre V12 taking it from 0-60 in a breathtaking 4.3 seconds, and has a top speed of 198 mph.
Park House Hotel is a well-hidden little gem of a hotel and boasts a fabulous Spa with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, two grass tennis courts, a croquet lawn, and a nine-hole ‘pitch & putt’ golf course, perfect for a large house-party with enough activities to prevent anyone getting bored.
We had lunch there with Tom Hunt, son of James, who had a day off from promoting the new film about his father’s great rivalry with Nicki Lauda, called RUSH. We saw it at a private viewing a few weeks later, and it is well-worth a viewing even if you are not a ‘petrol head’!
We persuaded the Groundsman at Park House hotel, Lance, whom I know from my shooting syndicate where he used to be our part-time Keeper, to allow us to drive the Bentley around his beloved 9-hole golf course so as to get the best views of the hotel in the background. This stylish hotel comprises a beautifully designed and ultimately flexible complex of complimentary buildings combining the best in traditional and modern design and materials.
We then ‘borrowed’ a Mercedes ‘C’ Class Estate from our Business Member, The Ridgeway Group, who sell a large range of luxury cars including, Mercedes, BMW, Mini, Audi, VW, Jaguar, and Land Rover, amongst others, and are now amongst the top ten of luxury car dealers in the UK and provide an efficient and friendly service.
Mercedes C Class Estate
This Mercedes ‘C’ Class Estate was a revelation with its incredibly effective diesel engine, and lively performance, and it was followed by the new Mercedes ‘E’ class convertible, the E250 CDi Sport, which we took to Pebble Beach restaurant near Bournemouth, and had a very good lunch inside because it was pouring with rain, so were unable to experience their large decked area which looked like it would be a great place to eat in good weather.
Mercedes E Class Cabriole 250 CDi
However, the sun came out as we were leaving, so the roof came down and we drove it to Sandbanks, which is the most expensive sand spit in the world, and where our Mercedes Sport looked very much at home amongst the millionaire’s mansions.
Our next car was suggested by my friend and neighbour John Barlow, who had long harboured a desire to own a Morgan, but had never succumbed, so he accompanied me to collect one to review.
Burgundy Morgan 4+4
This was definitely the most challenging car to drive, and had none of the comforts of the others, but it certainly had ‘guts’, and was designed and engineered to look, and drive like a classic English sports car between the wars; it was the Morgan 4+4. These iconic cars have been hand built at the same factory in Great Malvern for years, and we had a guided tour of the factory before taking possession of these rugged, no-concessions to modern technology, English sports car.
The bonnet stretched out ahead of you, and the driving position makes you feel like the front gunner in a Second World War bomber, but it did have some redeeming features, but one of which was not ease of entry or exit, especially when the roof is down, and you have contort yourself to slide into the bucket seats.
Another friend, Geoff Bruce, was awaiting our return and couldn’t stop laughing as we tried to extricate ourselves! I think I prefer the comforts of a modern car and now very much appreciate all the developments which have taken place over the last 100 years.
Anyway, we went from the ridiculous to the sublime when we had the privilege of driving the amazing Ferrari FF; F for 4-seater, and F for 4 wheel drive. This is the fastest four seater in the world, with a top speed of 207 mph, and 0-62 mph in 3.7 seconds, it holds the road like a limpet, and goes like the proverbial ‘Bat out of Hell’.
Ferrari FF at Birdham Pool, Chichester Harbour, West Sussex
We photographed this stunning car in the tranquil surroundings of Birdham Pool in Chichester Harbour, and then at one of my favourite pubs, the Star & Garter at East Dean on the Goodwood Estate, and the next day at Hotel TerraVina, on the edge of the New Forest, which is an award winning Foodie hotel owned by Gérard and Nina Basset, and where we had an epic dinner.
Ferrari FF at Hotel TerraVina, 174 Woodlands Road, Southampton
This was followed by a review of the top of the VW range, the Phaeton, which, far from being a ‘poor man’s’ Bentley, displays an astonishing degree of comfort, smoothness and impressive performance, although it lacks the style of its stable-mate, the Bentley Continental.
We then drove the new Audi A6 three litre BiTDL Quattro Estate, which is a worthy successor to its ancestor, the original Quattro which was first produced in 1980 and dominated that decade with its revolutionary permanent 4WD system, and it consequent legendary road holding. We described it as, ‘A Wolf in Sheep’s clothing’ as its conservative exterior hides a beast within.
Audi A6 Allroad Quattro BiTDL
The new model is as exciting as its predecessors, and fellow readers of my age will remember the stir which the original caused when it was launched in 1980.
The final car we road tested in 2013 was the extraordinary new Range Rover. We had the SD V8 ‘Vogue’, which takes some beating. This impressive monster does everything it says on the tin. It is powerful and sure-footed, and has a tremendous turn of speed if required, whilst its off-road performance is equally impressive. The V8 Diesel engine has endless power, and yet remains impressively economical with an average MPG of 32.5.
In addition to all these car reviews, we also published numerous reviews of some of the best restaurants and hotels in the UK, which included the trendy Novikov Bar & Restaurants in Berkeley Street, Mayfair, the haunt of the young cosmopolitan set in London, and not for the feint hearted, or the slightly deaf from not having worn ear defenders as a young man,
We also published two ‘Special Features on the Top Ten Beach Hotels in the UK, and the Magnificent Seven best beach restaurants in the UK.
St. Moritz, Trebetherick, Wadebridge, Cornwall
It is amusing to reflect on the fun we had with all these stunning cars, at all the wonderful places we took them to, and we look forward to some more amazing cars to review in 2014, starting with Jaguar ‘F’ type convertible, so I hope the weather is better by the beginning of March.
The Jaguar ‘F’ type is going to be followed by the new A8 3.0 TDI Quattro SE Exec, and I hope by the Maserati Quattroporte, the Ferrari Spider, the Rolls Royce ‘Wraith’ and the Bentley ‘Silver Spur’, and another Aston Martin, all of which have been promised!
So we will have plenty to keep us busy, and we are planning to do reviews of several country house hotels including the beautiful Gidleigh Park in Devon, Lower Slaughter Manor in the Cotswolds, and The Manor at Castle Combe in Somerset, and Cliveden, and many others, so, watch this space, because we like to bring only the best to our readers.
We are also planning the ultimate ‘Road Trip’ through France to the Cote D’Azur, and then to follow the coast road from Le Lavandou to Monte Carlo, and all points in between visiting a number of iconic hotels and restaurants, and to drive along the old Corniche road, before returning via Haute Provence, where we will stay at Crillon le Brave, and then at Chateau Bagnols in the heart of Burgundy, on the way home.
It’s a hard life, but somebody has to do it, and anyway, we are dedicated to bringing you the best, so we must maintain our ‘standards’. So many places and so little time!
19th January, 2014
P.S. If you are interested in learning more about, or test driving the following cars referred to above, namely Mercedes, Audi, VW, BMW/Mini, Jaguar Landover (Range Rover), then please contact our Business Member, The Ridgeway Group