8 Nov 2012

"Only Ever Meet your Heroes in the Right Places" - Sharon Endacotte Column

Sharon Endacotte goes for a spin in an Aston Martin DB9, but finds a tiny airfield track may not be the best place to stretch it's legs 

Sometimes, you think you know what a car’s going to be like before you even open the driver's door. You almost don’t need to drive it, because you’ve heard so much about it you already know how it drives, where its torque lies, how it revs, the harmony of engine and exhaust. You’ve pictured yourself slipping into the driving seat so many times that you’ve already decided how the leather will feel as it tenderly cups your buttocks, how the wheel will feel as you wrap your fingers around it and trace the stitching for the first time.

You’ve daydreamed about this moment, and then it finally arrives…

And it’s a bit of an anti-climax really.

It happened to me a while ago when I took an Aston Martin DB9 around a track in Essex (well, I say track, it was actually an abandoned airfield scattered with traffic cones, but don’t let that get in the way of a good story). There was nothing wrong with the car – the engine and exhaust made sweet music as the driver’s seat held me in its oft dreamed-of embrace. All I had to do was crook my big toe and I would feel the smooth surge of power, but… it left me cold.

If I had bollocks, I’m pretty sure I’d have felt as if I’d been kicked in them. The Aston Martin DB9, a car I’d fantasised about since its launch, had let me down. This was not a car for a pissy little makeshift mini-track on an airfield; it was too long-nosed, too heavy, too powerful to really let loose on the twists and bends of a course that, at any given moment, might have an old bloke doddering through his mid-life crisis in a slightly tired Ferrari blocking the way.

How dare it. This was my dream car. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

With the benefit of hindsight, it wasn’t really the big Aston’s fault. I may as well have asked Jonah Lomu to perform the Dying Swan as ask this big, muscular brute to thread itself through a course better suited to a car half its size. If I’d had the opportunity to spend the same glorious afternoon taking it through the pretty, twisting B-roads of rural Essex and really stretch its legs, I’m sure the impression I got would have been far more favourable. I’ve long since forgiven it for failing to live up to my expectations. It simply wasn’t the right car for the job.

So I swapped it for something that was – a Lotus Elise.

My only previous encounter with an Elise ended in disaster when I caught my foot in a recess in the pillar getting into the bloody thing and I threw my back out. I also had my doubts as to whether I’d fit into the driving seat, because all things considered I’m more Jo Brand than Jodie Kidd. However, although ingress was undignified (and egress possibly even more so), there was something reassuring about its snug grip on my backside, even if the whole thing did feel perilously close to the ground.

I strapped myself in, put my foot down and the little Lotus leapt into life in exactly the way the big Aston didn’t. Not weighed down with the bells and whistles of its larger fellows, the Elise is a much simpler proposition, and it feels like it. In some ways, it reminded me of my old Triumph Herald. The real joy of it was that when I did something with my hands and feet, the car responded. With a more complex car, that kind of purity of experience is lost, and for me, that is the real joy of driving something light, simple and focussed. I felt safe to push the Lotus in ways I didn’t the DB9, braking later and driving faster because I knew it would fit through the gaps I was aiming at. It’s not often I shriek and giggle with delight, but I couldn’t stop grinning, an endless stream of “Oh, I like you, you brilliant little car,” tumbling from my lips with each twist of the crumbling runway. And when the day drew to a close, I really didn’t want to give it back.

Yet I’m glad that I did, because whereas the DB9 didn’t really suit the track, I’m not sure the Elise would have been the car to drive home in.

I’m absolutely certain that the Lotus would have been hilarious going through the country lanes, but I’m not so certain that it’s what I would have wanted for the long stretches of clear, boring A-road. I don’t think it would have been the best option for the Sainsbury’s run on the way back either. The little Elise is a laugh on the track, but it’s not exactly a grand tourer. And with that in mind, next time I drive an Aston Martin, here’s hoping it’s on the open road.