- The car in question...

When Your Car Terrifies You...

Has it ever?

22w ago

As my fans (both of them) will be aware, thanks to inclement weather, salted roads and the sage advice of the present Mrs. Stanley - my Porsche 911 has spent much of the last three months tucked away in a warm, dry garage. During this period I've been galivanting about the countryside in our comfortable, but somewhat 'tractor-like' Toyota Verso.

When you drive the Verso, you get a commanding view of the road, a compliant, supple suspension and all the performance characteristics of James May racing a mobility scooter. It's many things! But fast it is not. It's quite safe to slap your foot down hard almost anywhere in any gear. Consider it a vehicle of purpose, so long as that purpose is to travel somewhere without having any fun.

This ISN'T true of the Porsche. At the weekend I had to drive over to Leek to take some small bags of asbestos to the tip and collect some new LED batten lights for the garage. I know what you're thinking. That sounds like the sort of trip you'd do in 'the boring car', but it was a nice day and I'd not taken the Porsche out for a good run in a while. Driving to the tip and queuing up amongst a hoard of ancient, crumbling SUVS, pick up trucks and vans, generated more than one bemused look - I'll admit. I suspect it's not every day, the operatives greeting people at the recycling centre find themselves looking down instead of up, at a Porsche 911.

That task done it was time to call at Screwfix and grab those batten lights. I'd decided to replace the old ones with 5ft, the same as were in before. This may have been a mistake, as the 4ft tubes would have actually fit in the car! Thankfully I managed to engineer a solution by dropping the back seats, sliding the lights into the corner, then trapping then gently with the electric passenger window. This meant they were secure and only had about 4" sticking out of the side window.

The only annoyance with this compromise was that due to the 4" of cardboard box sticking out the side, channelling air into the cabin - buffeting was elevated to something akin to piloting a Hawker Hurricane with the cockpit cover shot out.

Despite being partially deafened by this unfortunate misadventure, I was determined to have some fun on the way back. The road home is a long, winding main road with some great corners. Even though I felt a bit like my brain had been jet-washed by the time I was halfway home (thanks to the buffeting), I was genuinely enjoying myself.

Then the unthinkable happened. I found myself suddenly crawling along behind an elderly gentleman, trundling along in his Peugeot estate at sub 50mph in a 60 zone. Luckily, I knew there was a long straight coming up which always offered an excellent overtaking opportunity. When the time came, I checked all was clear, dropped down to third, and floored it, pulling into the opposite lane as I sped up.

Now, this MUST sound familiar? We've all done it? I can recall doing a similar manoeuvre in everything from crappy 1980's rot boxes with 1 litre engines to my old Jaguar 3.0 V6 and the Focus ST3 Turbo. However, none of those cars would have caused me an issue. I'd have simply passed, pulled in and tootled along on my way.

The difference in the 911 though is notable. Instead of passing, pulling in, then tootling along on my way... I find the offending Peugeot had quickly vanished to a tiny dot in my mirror and I'm suddenly thinking 'Jesus! Where did that f*ing corner come from?' while simultaneously squeezing the life out of my brake pedal and praying there's nothing around the corner.

For a split second, one SPLIT second. I was genuinely terrified. Luckily conditions were fine, the road was dry, I'd picked a safe spot to overtake and there was nothing else on the road. The situation probably had no right to be scary, but it was. I've terrified myself in cars before, back during my miss-spent youth. Back then though, it was naïve, youthful exuberance that caused the issue, not my 355 BHP flat six engine.

The lesson of the story? Remember what you're driving!

And just because you have a *lot of performance, doesn't mean you should USE that performance!

It strikes me that we all laugh at these fools on the 'Binned it Like Hammond' Tribe wrapping their supercars around lampposts, and I suspect more than one of us had a chuckle at that Paddy bloke off Top Gear, when he went off-roading in the Lamborghini Diablo. But I had 355 BHP in a 4WD car, on good tyres and was driving in near perfect conditions? What does a 500 BHP, RWD car feel like in the wet? I can only imagine the experience is one which warrants sturdy underwear and a post-drive 'stiff drink'.

My left foot wouldn't stop shaking for 5 minutes after this little incident. I can't imagine how Rick Hammond must have felt crawling from the burning wreckage of his Rimac while sporting a broken knee!

Martyn Stanley

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Comments (77)

  • One time I started my 147 in the morning and none of the warning lights remained on. Check engine was off. Spooky. 😄😄

      5 months ago
  • I had a Citroen Saxo VTR about 20 years ago and one of its handling traits which made it a fantastic drive was ‘lift off oversteer’

    For those that don’t know, when you are cornering and you lift off the gas pedal, the car tightens it’s line by oversteering which is due to rear suspension design.

    It scarred me when driving on a country road on a sweeping fast 60mph bend and there was sheep on the road (escaped from field) resulting in me having to brake hard with some steering lock on, ‘lift off oversteer’ is more pronounced when braking resulting in a far tighter line than I expected. With my knowledge I corrected it and all was fine (heart stopping moment though). Lots of drivers have however written cars off in these circumstances!

      5 months ago
    • Lift off oversteer IS scary! It's happened to me in other cars, and it comes on very suddenly. I don't like 'lift-off' oversteer!

        5 months ago
    • I tend to understand the mechanical makeup of a car and their handling traits so also know how to correct if need be as accidents occur when people’s reactions are wrong. Hence widowmakers, smashed up BMWs and mid engined cars spinning as...

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        5 months ago
  • Once that happened to me, I was cruising in my M5 back from work a few years back, and I came to a back road stuck behind a tractor and slammed the throttle down to the floor, the turbos warmed and then an inherently bonkers whoosh and crackle as I accelerate like a mad man unintentionally scaring the living daylights out of the farmer in his little old John Deere! 😂

      5 months ago
    • Nothing worse than being stuck behind tractors though - you can't see a thing and they take up so much of the road!

        5 months ago
  • i have been scared by a car but not in the Holy-crap-im-going-to-die-this-car-is-so-fast kind of way, but more in the holy-crap-im-going-to-die-we-are-breaking-down-on-a-hill-and-rolling -backwards-with-huge-semi-trucks-flying-at-us-why-wont-this-car-work kind of way.

      5 months ago
    • That sounds like a good story - what happened?

        5 months ago
    • my dad was thinking about buying a 1988 VW polo , and i went with him to look at it. when we were driving it, and it suddenly lost all of its power and the engine died. after a while it started again and we were on our way, then it did it again, so we...

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        5 months ago
  • Drove down a hill and there was a slight corner coming up at the bottom before it went back up another hill. I was spirited driving and doing about 80 mph. I didn't see the bump in the road coming, right before the corner... Hit it and the front suspension got compressed until it hit the bump stop. My steering got numb. Braked hard and just about managed to make the corner....

      5 months ago