The speed of sound

Back in 1999, a couple of friends of mine went to Australia. Her father was out there working and,e as she hadn’t seen him for a few months, had taken a trip out to see him. Upon her return to the wet, dreary, grey sky-laden Midlands, she made the decision. It was now or never that she wanted to move out of the area.

Her other half, taking one look overhead, shrugged his shoulders and agreed and within a couple of months, visas and tickets in hand, off to Heathrow they headed for the 24 hour journey to the other side of our little planet.

Unbeknownst to those they left behind, the first thing they did upon arriving in Sydney, was to seek out a British pub and watch his beloved football team on the large screen. Literally, within moments of arrival, he was in the pub watching football and apart from drinking VB lager and some twangy accents around him, there were other Brits around the place. And it was chucking it down. 10,560 miles and here he was practically doing what he’d done at home!

In all the travelling I’ve done since I started going away without my parents, it must be said that on more than one occasion, I’ve done exactly that. Landed in a foreign country and instead of going native, I’ve ended up in a British pub comparing the lager, bitter and Guinness to the exact same brands back home. As I got older, I refined it somewhat and headed to the Irish Bar that would no doubt be within a short distance of an Indian restaurant so I could complete that bewildering stereotype of getting a little bit drunk and having a curry.

These days, I’m completely different. As you get older, you start to realise that although people around the world are basically the same, experiencing their normal and leaving mine behind, has opened up so many more satisfying experiences. Food, drink, traditions and, of course, motoring.

Now that last one is a tricky one. Typically, the cars you get to experience in different countries will be hire cars. Go to a European country and you will end up with a small underpowered box with an Opel, VW, Puegeot, Hyundai as a starter. Go up the pay scale and you could have a Ford, BMW or Mercedes. Top dollar and you’ll have a big Mercedes and a Volvo to choose from. Yawn.

But now, you can have ‘dream’ cars to rent. A Jaguar F type, a Range Rover Vogue, BMW 6 series cabriolet. Granted, these are quite nice cars but dream?

Head to the USA and we get their equivalent starters; Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla and Chevy Malibu. Scroll through to the DREAM car and they offer you a Mercedes S550. Really? Dream? The dream part of that would be that you are sat in the back of the thing next to a supermodel heading out for dinner not renting one to drive surely?!

Interestingly though, sat in amongst the USA car listing is a Ford Mustang Convertible. Upon checking, it is the basic, slush-matic version but for the same price as a Dodge Grand Caravan people carrier, it would be the right choice surely.

But I can’t get over these ‘dream’ cars. Where are the classic muscle cars, the old Detroit blue-collar cars that stirred the petrol in our veins when you saw them in a movie car chase, or better still, gave you that meeting-your-hero feeling if you actually saw one for real? Why can’t we have these to rent? Fuel in the USA is still relatively cheap seeing as its low-octane rated garbage that we wouldn’t want over here, but at the equivalent of £1.94 per gallon versus our £5.15 per gallon (at time of writing) over here, the chance to go to the USA and drive one of these would be an amazing thing to have?

Well, some people are starting to offer this service but the limitations put in place make me question the validity of it. Maximum mileage is 200 miles a day. 200 miles? In the USA? That’s not enough to get to the shops in some states. The cost makes it a silly option which is a massive shame as I’d love nothing more than to get off the plane and take to the roads in a lime green Plymouth Barracuda or an original Ford Mustang.

I can understand the issues, of course. These are old technology cars and in today’s traffic jams you’d probably appreciate being limited to 200 miles since they may not make it much further than that before overheating. Then you wouldn’t be able to have your iPod on as the push button radio/cassette deck isn’t compatible.

The soundtrack out the back may send a tingle up your spine when you start up and gun away from a green light, but on a long journey, that constant rumble begins to irk. The give in the steering wheel means you’re on constant correction duty making sure the thing stays in a straight line. That’s tiring.

And so, I can understand that the cars that we are offered when renting has to take into account people wanting to not go native. They want something that they recognise and understand. So, after returning recently from a trip to Boston where I had gone native and had the Ford Mustang slush-matic for an 1800 mile trip, I had no desire to get back behind the wheel of any more American metal for a while.

So, here we are with some more American metal. Even more of it than I’ve just had but if is more menacing, more historic and a lot more gold than the one I’d just left in a parking lot. For this is a bonafide, original 1970 Ford Mustang 428 Mach 1 Twister Special. Maybe this is where Gillette has taken their razor naming convention inspiration?

Either way, that’s quite a mouthful to say but then again, this car does have quite the presence. So much in fact, that I immediately forgot all about my not wanting to drive any more American cars and just grabbed at the door handle. Now this in itself sets q very good starting tone. A cold steel handle, a thumb pushing clunk of the lock and then a solid, metal creaking door hinge opening a weighty drivers door made the inner engineer-lover inside me nod a satisfying thank you. I admit, if this same thing happened with a Ford Focus you’d not be so happy but this is so period correct, it made my heart flutter.

Sinking into the vinyl interior, you are met with a wonderful instrument binnacle set that immediately makes you want to go for a drive. Question is though, where? The Cotswolds doesn’t really offer too many ¼ mile straights where we might be able to put the hammer down and this thing already feels like corners are going to trip it up.

So, just as my friends did back in 1999, this car that has travelled a few thousand miles from its heartland beginnings to sample the delights of our British road network and just as they did, we’re taking it somewhere it can really feel at home. The drag strip.

This time we’re here to just use the ¼ mile section of old runway to really get a sense of how it may have felt back in the early seventies in Detroit where you could do this between the lights to prove your car, your brand, was best. Flooring the loud pedal, you’re met with a deep, guttural below, supported with a high pitched squeal of rubber spinning behind you while the horizon dips in front of you as the nose of this beast begins its way forwards.

And then it happens. You can’t help it. The corners of your lips begin to curl into a smile that just as the end of the strip hones into view, keeps on coming. This feels immense. Admittedly, standing on the brakes you’re reminded of another older technology kicking in to slow you down. Unlike the huge breaking you can find in a modern day car, this feels as though the pedal is being pushed into a marshmallow carpet. Briefly, the smile levels out with a mild panic arriving in its place, but the needle on the speedo confirms that we are in fact slowing quite well.

Maybe it’s the wide open expanse of runway giving a false sense of perspective, but with the gears changing down and the car slowing well before a set of metal railings, that no doubt would aid the slowing process further, its time to turn around and head back to the start line.

A few more runs up and down the strip confirms that this car is still an all-American hero. Yes, it drinks like Oliver Reed. Yes, it corners like a cross-channel ferry and yes, it makes noise rather than haste but for all of these things, it offers you such a great feeling of driving something for the love of it, that it bears little other than name to the car I’ve left back in Boston.

So I urge you, when travelling, by all means go to an English or Irish bar for that feeling of home but if you want to have the proper experience, go native.

Article: Ben Mather Photography: The Whitewall Stunt driver: Andy Bradshaw

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