In 2006 we arranged a short trip to The Paris Motor Show, where we first saw our Opel GT and the official launch of the BMW MINI R56. We decided that it was time to repeat the trip, so Saturday saw us at The Paris Motor Show once again for a look at what MINI and the other manufacturers had to offer in 2012. Keeping us company on our look around the Motor Show were The Elf and Fandango.
We entered the show and for no real reason decided to start our tour in Hall Number One and as a result of this the very first stand we encountered was the MINI stand and the very first car we set eyes on was the new R59 MINI Coupe JCW. This was quite bizarre as this is the very model that we have just ordered to join the stable at Beastie Folly! The model shown looked spiffing in black with a red roof, stripes and the bold, fixed JCW spoiler, here painted in red to match the roof. We have ordered this spoiler on our car and this was the first time we had seen the spoiler painted on the Coupe. To our biased eyes it looked stunning and this car being the very first car we saw just put us in a good mood for the rest of the show!
We have made no secret of the fact that our view on the looks of the Coupe has chopped and changed in the past. When we first saw the Coupe concept pictures we loved it but then when we saw our first Coupe in the flesh in Liverpool when it was launched, we were frankly very negative towards the car. It didn't look right, it wasn't balanced somehow, it seemed too high and too short. However, pictures began to appear on the net with the car sporting the fixed JCW spoiler instead of the standard pop up spoiler and the car became a different beast altogether. The spoiler is much bigger and hangs back behind the car a little and now, visually the car has balance. This was how it seemed to us and on the strength of this we placed our order. Seeing the car for real in this guise has confirmed this view and we thought the car looked stunning.
The JCW Coupe was on the stand next to the MINI GP, which was officially revealed at this show. There has been shedloads of talk, review, speculation and excitement about the second generation GP and rightly so. We gave our thoughts on it, when we first saw it at MINI United earlier in the year and while it did not bowl us over, nonetheless it is a fine and desirable car. However, what we found interesting and frankly very pleasing was that in the time that we were on the stand and in truth it was a long time, the crowds were far, far more interested in the Coupe than they were in the GP. Having ourselves been somewhat uncertain of its looks, the combination of seeing it with the fixed spoiler and observing the obvious popularity of the car with the public, was truly extremely satisfying. Finally though we tore ourselves away from the Coupe.
The new Paceman was there too. An instant hit with Lady Peanut and me but a big no no with The Elf and Fandango. It is another pay more for less scenario, but get over that, it looks sexier than the Countryman and frankly anyone who tries to justify any MINI in practical terms has already missed the whole point of the MINI brand. The whole brand is a lifestyle choice, you get a MINI because you want one, not because it is better than, or more practical than something else. You buy MINI for the same reason that you would buy a Mont Blanc instead of a BIC, or a Rolex instead of a Swatch. However, if in your head you are now saying, yes but a Mont Blanc isn't that much better than the BIC and the Rolex isn't that much better than the Swatch, well you are right but for God's sake don't buy a MINI you will never "get it".
The next car to catch our eye was the New Renault Clio RS. A very fine car, a lovely colour as always but it would be disqualified in every Olympic event it ever entered because there is no way that you could get all those steroids through the drug testing. The car has grown, really grown. Lady Peanut described it as "a Renault Megane in a tight dress" and she is spot on with that description. Remember it well because the first time you see this car you will agree with her!
The Abarth stand looked splendid and with the 500 model Fiat have eclipsed even MINI's marketing prowess with a generous helping of the "lifestyle choice" philosophy added to the car's DNA. These are smashing cars, again from the less is more stable and they do put convincing interiors into them too. For me though, they will always be a little bit too thin and a little bit too tall. That said though, I respect Fiat for making a real fight of it with MINI in the small car Lifestyle choice sector.
Opel have entered this market too. they have made a rather attractive and well kitted out small car that to my eyes looks better than a Fiat 500. But they have called it Adam! We can rest assured then that Opel will remain the poor relation to the rest of the German car makers! It's a great little car, but it is not Citroen DS chic, Fiat 500 cute and it wouldn't know va va voom if it came along and shook its booty in its face! But for all that we still gave it a thumbs up.
Mercedes cars were looking sexy! Yes, I did say sexy and this was vey encouraging to see. Audi have been nodding at sex appeal for a while, but Volkswagen have just been making boxes (new cool Beetle excluded) and BMW have lost themselves trying to understand what Metrosexual means and building tanks in the meantime!
The Subaru BRZ was there and that looked damned exciting. We missed its sister the Toyota GT86, which was a shame, as we would have liked to compare these. The Subaru looks like a lot of car for the money and this was Fandango's favourite from the show. Mazda MX5 style fun driving but in a Coupe body. A really great car and any sensible person would probably choose one of these over a hooligan MINI JCW Coupe anyday!
Finally, The Elf's favourite from the show was the two-seat Smart Forstars concept electric car, which did look funky (substitute "groovy" if you prefer). I was hoping to see a car to blow me away but in truth my favourite and Lady Peanut's favourite from the show, was the MINI JCW Coupe. We went with open minds but somewhere inside us is MINI, like writing in a stick of rock and this was by far our favourite from the show. We asked The Elf to photograph the day in black and white, so click on her photo to see her really rather wonderful slideshow of the day and click on the JCW Coupe to see the show in full colour. Finally, click the Instagram photo to see a gallery of all our iPhone pictures from a fun day at The Paris Motor Show.
Click on the Picture for The Paris Motor Show in Black and White. Photographed by The Elf.
Mini In The Park is a MINI event for both the Classic Mini and the BMW variety and was held on the 12th August at Santa Pod Raceway near Wellingborough. Last weekend we were at Wilton House for the Classic and Supercar Show and we spent the Saturday cleaning the Opel GT. This week it was the MINI Clubman which got cleaned on the Saturday ready for the meet on Sunday.
We went with The Clubman Register run by Brettles, who kindly got our tickets and posted them out to us before the event. This helped us immensely as Peanut was working on Saturday night, so I collected her from work at 8.30 on Sunday morning and we went straight to Santapod arriving there for ten. A big thanks to Peanut's work colleague Andy who came in half an hour early to give us a chance of getting there at a decent time. It made all the difference!
The Clubman Register stand looked great when we got there and there were some very good looking Clubbies on the stand. When you see the dressed up ones they do look very impressive and to my eye look a lot better than the R56 coupe counterparts. The sun shone all day and it made for a fun day. It was not as pretty or glamorous as Wilton Hall the week before, but as a counterbalance this was perhaps more relevant to us as it was all MINIs and you do come away full of ideas. It was good to see old friends again and Czar was on fine form! Five minutes after we arrived we also saw Christine and Louis which was a nice surprise.
There was a big turn out of MINI GPs too from the UK GP Owners club and we had a chat to some old friends on there, Jonboy and Minibee who are devils for making us dream about having a GP. These guys have no idea how it unsettles us when we saw this splendid collection of GPs. to make matters worse, Wollaston MINIs had a trade stand which they bolstered by bringing along a Goodwood MINI, a MINI Roadster and yes a mint condition original GP which was up for sale at a tempting price!
The racing down the strip was exciting and it was good to see a large selection of trade stands that also had things for the BMW MINIs. the Trade stands were something that the very Corporate feeling MINI United event earlier in the year at The Paul Ricard Circuit in the South of France lacked.
The stunt aeroplane is well worth a mention too as his display was just amazing. And there you have it, lots of great MINIs, a catch up with lots of old friends, lots of GPs to torment us and a smattering of new MINI Coupes to drool over - another perfect day out at a car event! As always click on the photos to see a slideshow of pictures from the day.
Pistonheads drew our attention to this event, held on the 5th August 2012, which essentially is a celebration of classic and supercars. the Earl who owns Wilton House is a car fanatic and has a large collection of his own exotic automobilia which was on display at the show too. He had a special wrap done on his Veyron just for the show which you can see above. Lots to see then.
Saturday saw us cleaning and polishing the Opel GT to make it look its best in the Pistonheads allocated parking and Sunday we treated as a school day and set off at 8 in the morning for the drive down to Wiltshire. The weather did not promise fun as it tipped down all the way down, turning into torrential rain and flooding the closer we got to Wilton House. Any of you who read our blogs will know of the Curse of RVW, a friend of ours, whose presence guarantees rain. Now this event should have been sunny as we knew he was causing havoc in the South of France. The closer we got to Wilton the more we worried about our pal. Surely for us to have rain like this he must be back on British soil and we worried that his holiday trip had gone pear shaped. However, ten minutes from Wilton the rain stopped, the sun came out and we had dry weather for the rest of the day. RVW must afterall be fine and dandy!
Wilton House is lovely with beautiful grounds and it makes a lovely backdrop for a car event such as this. We had the same view on the recent Gloucester Car Show that we went to at Highnam Court and while that was more modest than this event it was almost as good.
When we arrived we met up with The Elf and Fandango and his nephew Reece, which added to the fun of the day. There was lots of beautiful cars to see and picking a favourite was nigh on impossible. Reese was clear on his favourite and he fell for a Nissan GT-R, Fandango, I suspect was won over by the many Bugatti Veyrons to be seen and to be honest I have no idea what the Elf went for but I suspect it was the new McLarens. Peanut can never choose but in this case I think it had to be a JCW MINI Coupe as this is the car she is hankering after! I was spoilt for choice but I tend to dream about cars that are almost within grasp, so while £200,000 dream cars are wonderful, I never really get too excited about them. Now, there was a Morgan 4/4 Sport there...
A bonus on the day was the discovery of a dent man and as we were parked inside the grounds courtesy of Pistonheads we were able to drive the Opel GT to his stand where he very publicly removed a dent from our drivers door - RESULT! Dentmaster.com and we definitely recommend him!
We bumped into an old friend from the MINI community BIG Jon, who was there with his Dad showing off a very sexy and unique Jensen Interceptor Convertible that they share between them for weekend fun. Always good to see a familiar face. MOR54N, a beautiful Morgan Supersports was there too. We first saw this car at the Morgan factory just prior to its owner collecting it and we have bumped into it several times since such as at The Le Mans Classic recently. This is a stunning motor in a delicious metallic burgundy colour.
Food and drink was available in abundance and without too much queuing but we were able to have a lovely picnic by our car with the food we had bought. The cars made the show, but the weather and the company were icing on this very enjoyable cake. Yep it was a great day out and on the calendar for next year.
As always click on the photos for a slideshow from the day and click here for our Instant photo uploads of the day.
A Weekend at The Le Mans Classic July 2012
We decided to go to the Le Mans 24 Hour Classic Race in July 2012 and our friends RVW and Storm joined us for the weekend. They were going from Lincoln, so went via the Tunnel, while from Malvern we elected to cross from Portsmouth to Caen on the overnight ferry. We all booked three nights at the Oasis Hotel in Villaines-la-Juhel, which was about 40 miles away from the Le Mans racetrack. The event proved to be a cracker...
We sailed a little after 11 in the evening but the fun began as soon as we arrived to board the boat. All kinds of exotic classic cars were waiting to board the boat and while ClubBeast our MINI Cooper S Clubman normally gets a lot of attention and second looks it felt distinctly ordinary in this fine company. We had intended to take our Opel GT, which would have looked more the part but we scuppered ourselves when brake calipers were needed for an MOT and we could not get the parts in time for the trip. Classic Porsche 911s, Aston Martins, a gaggle of Caterhams, a herd of Morgans a glorious Ford GT40 in Gulf racing colours were just some of the petrol porn waiting to board. It was a bit like Noah's Ark but for cars and the smell of petrol fumes and the noise was glorious. We were excited and the trip hadn't really begun!
In the morning we decided to lie in bed on the boat and grab breakfast en-route to Le Mans. We had previously visited Bagnoles de L'Orne a few times and knowing it to be a beautiful town we headed there for our petit déjeuner. We weren't disappointed and in a lovely pâtisserie there we enjoyed toffee jam on our croissants! Unusual but yummy. Meanwhile RVW and storm were belting from their overnight hotel in Calais, down to our rendezvous near the Le Mans Racetrack.
Pistonheads had arranged a lunchtime meet for the Le Mans Classic on the Friday at a campsite called Le Bounty and this was where we arranged to meet RVW and Storm. We got here just before 12 and soon after sat down to enjoy homemade pie and potatoes. A nice collection of automobiles had gathered here too and a lot of interesting watches could be seen on the wrists of these petrolheads. We had a lot of fun here chatting about cars and watches and admiring the motors as we waited for RVW and Storm to join us.
After RVW and Storm were fed and watered we took our first leisurely look at the Le mans classic, parking in our designated Blue Car Park. First at the boat and again at Le Bounty, our excitement had been mounting and finally we were back at Le Mans, 4 years after our first visit in 2008. The place was alive with cars, shops, stalls, souvenirs and sex on wheels was around every corner. We were loving it. The weather stayed dry and very soon we had walked our legs off and decided to head for our hotel.
Friday night escaping from Le Mans is something that somebody could make a movie about all on its own. It was utter gridlock and as a precaution I rang the hotel to advise that we would be later checking in. Finally we got out of le mans and discovered that the drive to Villaines-la-Juhel was almost as much fun as the event itself. It was great fun. The hotel proved to be lovely and we had a marvellous comfortable room that was such a pleasure to have as our base for three nights. We dined in the pizzeria in the courtyard that night and all shared a lovely meal.
After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel the next morning we set off once more for The Classic. We got split up on the drive to Le Mans and we had more luck than RVW fighting through the hellish Le Mans traffic. He finally joined us in the event two hours after us. They do need to get a grip on the traffic issues when they organise these events. Anyway, our time was not wasted while we waited for RVW and Storm to join us and we discovered these beautiful Renault Alpines that you can see in the picture. Personally I really fell for these beauties. A modern Renault Megane RS was parked close to these and it brought home to me how big our cars have become. These Alpines have a daintiness to their beauty that the new cars have lost.
We dipped into the racing from time to time and watched a Le Mans Start, which was amazing. For me it is cars from the 60s, 70s and 80s that I enjoy the most. Watching some Ford GT40s racing was fantastic and having seen one waiting to get on the ferry from Portsmouth, this car seemed to encapsulate this weekend for us more than any other. It was a little 1:43 scale model of the 1969 Ford GT40 that won driven by Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver that we bought from one the stalls as a souvenir of the weekend.
Having a second generation Opel GT, it was a joy for us when we spotted a few of the Original Opel GTs from the late sixties/early seventies and it would be a dream come true if we were ever to have one in our stable.
The Saturday and Sunday saw spells of heavy rain - we expected this as RVW was there and the Curse of RVW is well known from as long ago as 2006 - but it did not stop the fun. However, after a full day walking about the legs were giving in and it was nice to have a hotel to go back to. On the Saturday evening we had less trouble getting out of Le mans and broke up the journey home with a stop off in a restaurant and then a beer back at the hotel.
Sunday was more of the same, racing, drooling over the cars and souvenir hunting. The whole weekend was huge fun and should I get the chance I will be back there again in two years time when it is next on. Monday morning after breakfast we said our goodbyes as RVW and Storm headed back for the Tunnel and home. And we pointed ourselves at The Millau Bridge and... well home in the South of France.
You know sometimes it is easiest to just be upfront about things - yep life just ain't that bad!
Click any of the pictures for a slideshow of photos from the weekend or click here to visit the pictures we blogged as they happened over the weekend
The Gloucester Car Show was held on June 10th and 11th at Highnam Court just outside Gloucester. Our friends Rose and John suggested this as a day out as they live next door to the estate and we were not disappointed when we went along with them for the show. We managed to get a few photos, as the weather stayed dry all day and you can see these by clicking on the photograph above.
A large selection of local dealers were there, which gave us a chance to look at some of the latest offerings from the stables of BMW, Citroen, Audi and many more. Williams were there with a selection of Morgans and as you can imagine the new Three Wheeler was getting a lot of attention. From MINI the New MINI Coupe was getting a big examination from us, even if we have now seen the car a 100 times already. We have had a real love hate relationship with this car but I think now we have courted the car long enough to know that it really is true love for us.
The stars of the show though were the vintage and classic cars that were displayed in front of the big house. Here you could see all sorts from big and wonderful Bentley Blowers, to a classic Porsche 911 Turbo, from a Morris Minor van to a Jaguar E Type. The grounds and House at Highnam Court made a stunning backdrop for these beautiful motors.
There was one car that particularly caught my eye. Just in front of the big house was a stunning MX Derby Bentley which was a superb recreation of the Embiricos Bentley as built in 1938. This was done by Petersen Engineering from Devon. When I saw this car I wondered if it inspired the Morgan Aeromax, which is a modern day beauty that to my eye has very similar design cues to this motor.
Of the modern cars on view then the Nissan GTR stole my heart. An American style muscle car but with Japanese engineering and reliabilty - what apart from the £1000 a year car tax is there not to like?
This was a smashing day out for us and definitely an event to note on the calendar for the future. The gardens were a beautiful bonus too and we have highlighted these on The Life Blog here. These are well worth a visit even when there is no car show. Simply put, the garden is the cake, the car show the icing.
MINI United 2012 was held at the Paul Ricard Circuit at Le Castellet in the South of France from the 11th to the 13th May and we were there to see the fun. The MINI press release describes a record breaking success:
Record numbers set up a feast of the spectacular.
Records were being broken as well as played in Le Castellet, as the number of enthusiasts from around the world attending the previous MINI United at Silverstone, Great Britain (25,000) was bettered once again this year. 30,000 fans took over the Circuit Paul Ricard during the three days. The majority did the honourable thing by turning up in their own MINI, some even driving 6,490 km (4,032 miles) from the outer reaches of Russia to France. There, they mingled with fellow MINI devotees from the USA, Japan and Canada, who had also etched the event into their calendars. This unique gathering of MINI models ensured that the MINI Club Area, in which 24 MINI clubs from around the world were represented, the already legendary stage for ultra-spectacularly styled cars a.k.a. Beauty Parking, and a line-up of the full MINI product family were an even greater attraction than ever for the MINI fans.
So what was our experience of MINI United like? Well first and foremost we had a fun time and in brief our highlights were, a 5 lap drive around the track behind a pacy pace car, an on road test drive of the new MINI Coupe JCW by both myself and Lady Peanut, a test drive of the Countryman SD and seeing the new MINI GP at first hand, which you can read about here.
However, it wasn't all good. The events were literally spread about all over the circuit which meant that there was a lot of walking in very hot conditions. If there were 30,000 people there, then at anyone time 26,000 of them were queuing for food at the one and only restaurant leaving the other 4,000 to try and make the place look full! Or more seriously, that would have been say 6,000, on the Friday and 12,000 on each of the Saturday and Sunday but with the way everything was so spread out it made it seem quite empty a lot of the time. It really needed compacting together to get a better atmosphere. I will qualify this though, by saying that this was only our experience and others might disagree. We stayed a long way from the track at Port Cogolin an hour and a half away at least and while the drive there and back on the Saturday going through the hills rather than through Toulon was simply epic, it did perhaps make us feel a bit detached from the event. Also, I am still only 6 weeks post major liver surgery, so by the time I had walked about the circuit all day, I was too tired to stay for the music each evening and I guess I missed out on the wonders of Iggy Pop, his Stooges and his other mates who went along for a sing song. But if I missed something sensational then in truth I'll get over it.
MINI worked hard on this festival and it was a great place to hold it but while it had more people going than Silverstone in 2009 it lacked the atmosphere that Silverstone had. Silverstone was an R50/R53 MINI and Paul Ricard was an R56 MINI. Technically, few can argue with the view that the R56 is a better product than the R50/R53 but there is more to a car than technology; the original BMW MINI had soul, spirit, heart, The R56 is faster, safer, more refined but sometimes lacks that certain (yes I'll say it as we are discussing an event in France) je ne sais quoi. This is how I felt about MINI United 2012 - it lacked that intangible quality that was so evident at Silverstone in 2009. The British contingent was small too and this made a difference. At Silverstone it seemed that everyone we ever knew, who had a MINI was there but here there were very few people whom we knew. It made me realise what a World Car the MINI really is. I think we sometimes flatter ourselves in the UK that BMW MINI needs us and the British heritage, but now I'm not so sure.
The Test Drives.
First up we went out in the MINI Coupe JCW. I went for a spin first and then Peanut. The first point to make is that you have no idea what it would be like in the UK as the roads around the track are so smooth and pothole free, that it bears no relation to the UK driving experience. Nothing then unsettled the ride so the car felt smooth and refined when ambling about but beastly when required. Overtaking was effortless and the car inspired confidence and the end result was that it felt like a great balance between refinement and performance. I suspect the balance would be a tad different in the UK. We both loved it enough to give it some serious consideration.
Next up was the Countryman SD. I like the Countryman it feels like a great space to be inside and I like the match of this 2.0 litre BMW block with the Countryman. It felt plenty fast enough but this felt more rolly and wallowy than I remember the Countryman S being and to me it did not feel as quick. Yes it had that diesel torque thing that people go on about but it just did not feel to me as quick as a Countryman S. That's it; a great balance of performace and economy, which is perhaps the correct combination for a Countryman but don't kid yourself that you have an S beater - you haven't. We would have one quite happily, but we would not move Heaven and Earth to get one, it hasn't eaten into our soul so that we can't live without one.
So that's a MINI GP and a MINI Coupe JCW for us then. Thank you very much! Now we have sorted out what we want, the only thing stopping us is the small matter of... (can I use such a vulgar swear word in cyberspace? I can - ok I'll say it) MONEY!
Driving The Track
Two options. Behind a pace car, or not behind a pace car. One was fast, the other was very, very fast. We did the track behind the pace car. I loved it. I pretended I was Stirling Moss for ten minutes, made extra car noises with my mouth, as I accelerated out of the bends and was a thoroughly happy big kid throughout!
To conclude. A great event but it could have been so, so much better.
Click on any photo for a slideshow.