Paul with the Triumph he drove as a birthday present
A TRIUMPH OF YESTERYEAR MOTORING
Motoring writer, Paul Forrester, recently drove back in time when he got behind the wheel of a classic Triumph Vitesse. Here he relates how he found piloting a 1968 car...
Two things strike you about the experience. First: the feeling of vulnerability, sitting in a car with no ABS or other modern safety features, and built thirty years before Euro
NCAP even came into being. Second: the trickle of water running down your right
leg. While an easy-to-operate roof is great when the sun is out, a particularly severe rainstorm rather shows up its lack of ‘weather-tightness’…
10am. We pull into the yard amid persistent drizzle. One of the signs on the gate gives the first clue as to what might be in store; it’s a pretty safe bet that my girlfriend hasn’t arranged for us to spend my birthday watching kitchens being made in an old
farm building. But aside from having to find the paper-half of my driving licence 24- hours previously, the day’s events have so far been kept secret, so the words “Classic Car Hire” serve only to put a smile of anticipation on my face.
That smile becomes a wide grin at the sight of an outbuilding full of nine or
ten classic cars all parked nose to tail, obediently waiting for someone to take them out on the open road. I’m no walking encyclopaedia when it comes to these sorts of vehicles – anything I see built before about 1980 usually elicits a comment of, “I’d love to drive something like that,” regardless of make, model, style or size.
Nevertheless, I can still recognise an old Porsche 911, and E-type Jaguar and a MkII like Inspector Morse drove.
A funky-looking red car with a folding roof sits nearest to us – it’s a Triumph
Vitesse, 1968 vintage, and is about to take the honour of being the oldest car I’ve ever driven. I look back down the yard, trying to work out where the course or track is that I’ll be going out on. The surprises haven’t finished yet though. Driving a predetermined
route, it transpires, is not the point of the day.
A quick trip up and down the yard for acclimatisation, then we’re sitting in the gateway with the 2-litre engine burbling enthusiastically. It sounds positively delighted as we venture onto the country lanes, despite my trepidation and heightened awareness that the transport is someone else’s valuable property. The first time we
meet another car is scary, but they allow a respectful amount of room and any potential mishap is quickly averted. Equally quickly, but perhaps most importantly, I soon remember that however alien it might feel, it is still just a car.
Even so, no power steering is very alien indeed! Simple junctions suddenly
become complex undertakings – in addition to wrestling with the wheel there is a lot of travel in the four-speed gearbox, and finding second gear is, initially at least, more than a little down to pot luck. Then there is the position of the indicator stalk, which seems better suited to a ’25 to 5’ hand position than the more conventional ’10 to 2’.
Maybe that hadn’t been invented in 1968.
We survive, happily, and eventually head north on the A515 towards
Ashbourne. The next challenge is getting up to a speed that matches the other traffic, which at around 40mph requires the use of the stalk lurking just behind the indicator controls – the impressively titled ‘overdrive’. Flicking it down gives more power to the
engine and makes 50/60mph far more achievable, even if my nerves make a stately 30 or 40mph more desirable.
With four decades spent on the road, however, the car knows what it is
capable of and demands more of its driver. The dramatic styling of the bonnet points the way forward with animal-like purpose and the Triumph growls along, happily eating up the miles as I feel ever more at home behind a dashboard mercifully free of
cheap plastic. It’s also a mechanically simple machine, and you can’t help but feel particularly cruel any time a pothole is unsuccessfully avoided.
The seats are far comfier than those in my own car and, with the freedom to
go absolutely anywhere, the day sees nearly 150-miles go by without a hint of
fidgeting. Lack of a radio is inconsequential when your right foot makes all the noise you could possibly want to hear, and the morning’s heavy showers have no impact on my enjoyment of the drive.
That enjoyment reaches a whole new level in the afternoon. The roof goes down almost the moment the sun comes out and we head straight back to the winding lanes. The Triumph revels in its natural habitat; drivers in other cars glance at us with envy (much like I would do if the roles were reversed) and I can’t help but feel a swell of pride. The experience doesn’t fail to live up to the utopia that comes to mind when seeing other people driving their classics.
Anything the Triumph might lack (by modern standards) in refinement it more
than makes up for with charm. Compared to the sanitised journeys that most of us know and have come to tolerate on our daily commute, this is motoring as it should be; how it was envisaged when no one could conceive of congested town centres,gridlocked motorways and a worldwide preoccupation with Global Warming.
In one day I’ve experienced the quirks and the thrill, the rain and the sun, of
driving a classic, all without the hassle of actually owning one. I was wrong earlier – the Triumph is so much more than just another car.