Event: Lambo & Ferrari Driving Day

I thought I had been good in 2009. My missus must have agreed and lodged an appeal with Santa to give me a drive in on of my all time favourite supercars. The man in the red suit obliged and to my extremely excitable surprise I had a Supercar driving day for Christmas!

The day is run by Vision Motorsport, a red-letter day company offering the ultimate driving experience in a multitude of wonderful poster supercars. I had chosen the Lamborghini Gallardo – a dream car of mine.

I decided to wait until June before booking my slot – hedging my bets that the weather might work in my favour. I wasn’t disappointed and June 25th was a beautiful day. I arrived an hour early (eager, you see), didn’t want to risk being late as traffic around York can be bedlam. On display was a lovely selection of supercars. A couple of Aston Martin’s, Audi R8, a Porsche GT, Ferrari 360 and of course, my Lamborghini Gallardo. In bright yellow!

Lots of supercars

Lots of supercars

Off to the side was an Ariel Atom which, for a small fee, could be taken out as a passenger demonstration to show you just how quick and precise these crazy little cars can be.

Supercar driving day

Supercar driving day

Following a safety briefing and the option of additional insurance should you take a few too many liberties, we were ready to begin.

The driver took us out initially in a Subaru Impreza, describing the course and the angles to take each of the corners. The event was relatively quiet, so only a couple of supercars were out on the track at once – the other being the Ferrari 360, its red bodywork positively radiating the sun’s reflection on this beautiful day.

As the two cars started up – the Ferrari starter motor turning with the rapid squeal bereft only of supercars before barking to life with positive gusto, shortly followed by the Gallardo – which rather wheezed and whirred to life like a sleeping lion with all the intention of staying in slumber for just as long as it pleases. After a few moments only, the lethargic engine gave a reluctant bark indicating it was now fired up and ready to go – and alluding to the age old adage ‘its not just the buying, its the running that costs’.

There were 4 people in our group to play with the Lambo, I was 3rd on the list (alphabet and all that) and watched as the other drivers went out in the Gallardo.

Yellow Lamborghini Gallardo

Yellow Lamborghini Gallardo

Once the guy before me came back, I took a few photos and jumped in. Tight squeeze for tall Paul I tell you. But once in, other than my hair shaving the car roof it was a pretty comfortable place to be. Everything is just a minor reach away. The pedals were close together though, the giant plates at the end of my ankles requiring careful placement to avoid slamming both the accelerator and brake pedal all at once. The fit and finish of the Lamborghini indicates this new breed of Audi build quality is a solid, well made car.

RL instruct you to be out of 1st and 2nd gear almost immediately and the course is driven in 3rd and 4th. This allows you to get up to around 120mph on the straights but you loose out on the immediacy of the speed generated through the key gears, which normally allow for rapid pace out of the corners. Presumably this is to reduce the chance of powering into a hedge as you get a little too excitable with the unexpected power surge allowed by the lower cogs. I also suspect that finance plays a strong part here – regular use of 2nd gear would lead to much redline and a likely premature death of some expensive automotive parts.

Either way, it was an exhilarating experience, throwing this £100k car around the bends and giving it the boot all the way up the long straights it’s a day I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. The Gallardo, like its appearance felt very stable, precise and sure footed. It was a clean drive where you point and squirt and the car takes you in your chosen direction without any question, just adding more and more ingredients to the massive grin on my face. The gear change was slick and the whole car felt very poised and with its clean external lines, a rather neat if somewhat aggressive looking beast to behold.

Ferrari and Aston Martin

Ferrari and Aston Martin

Contrast to the Ferrari which, after my 6 laps in the Gallardo and adrenaline in full swing I was itching to try. Deposit down, strap in and off we go. By comparison the appearance of the Ferrari is something more brutal and raw. Its design is fit for purpose and that purpose is to go as fast as it can in an undiluted quest for engineering perfection. You take it by the scruff of the neck and it rewards as your throw it around the bends. It’s like an angry bull, chomping at the bit and making a thoroughly good job of audio drama. Performance was brisk – not quite as fast as the Lambo, but this might have been the gear ratio setup on the straights. I only managed 105mph compared to 115mph in the Lambo. The gearbox took some getting used to, being the gated variety which was more mechanical than the traditional shift that you’d find in a regular car. The clutch on the Gallardo was very modern and light for a supercar, unlike the Ferrari which felt nearly as heavy as a 348 that I sat in a few years ago. A well oiled left knee and pumped leg muscles are still a pre requisite of Ferrari ownership it would seem.

This flip on my expectations on these two cars was somewhat surprising, as the Ferrari has always been the one which historically mated beauty with engineering perfection whilst Lamborghini preferred a slightly more unhinged, bonkers approach. How times have changed.

The driving day was fantastic fun and allows us mere mortals the chance to experience cars which, without these red-letter companies could well stay on a dream to-do list for many years to come. Both cars offer an exclusive driving feel but their distinction is also their affinity – both offer a wonderful, lasting memory for any car nut.

Time to get writing to Santa….

Yellow Lamborghini Gallardo on the track

Yellow Lamborghini Gallardo on the track

June / July 2010

Event: Manchester Peak District Drive

I am now the feature writer for supercardriver.com . This report can be viewed in a magazine format, by clicking here.

10 hours, 187 miles, £400 for charity and 1 very memorable day.

It was an early start, but this meet promised to be a good one, unlike the weather which was indecisive between showers and sunshine at 6am. I set off from West Yorkshire and headed to Sheffield, collecting a friend on the way and stopping for some fatty badness breakfast at the local fast food restaurant.

Sheffield Supercar Sunday is organised by Adam and Richard from Supercardriver.com and feedback from previous meets promised a great day out with a variety of wild and wonderful cars. Adam had sent me an invite and I’ve been thoroughly looking forward to it. For this drive we started out from Sheffield, through Glossop and arriving at Manchester and stopping at various points for photo opportunities or to collect another bunch of car enthusiasts on the way.

We arrived at the Sheffield meet point at 7.30am and a nice selection of cars had already arrived including an Aston Martin, BMW M5, M3, Corvette, Lotus Elise, Merc SLK, Caterham and 997 Turbo to name a few. Then a Ferrari F355 Spyder turned up and not one, but two 2010 Nissan Skyline GTRs. A Lotus Elise pulled up next to one of them initially, a visual scene reminiscent of the story ‘David and Golliath’. One by one more cars arrived until we departed at 8am, heading over ‘Snake Pass’ into Glossop.

And they're off....

And they're off....

The drive along Snake Pass is lovely. Beautiful countryside with a long winding road through the centre of the dales, taking you into Glossop via a few small villages, random ambling sheep and some great twists and straights. All drivers enjoyed the experience, some of the more powerful machines ducking and diving traffic when the opportunity arose.

2At one point, there was a slowdown caused by a Land Rover who was leisurely driving along. He must have seen the long line of brightly coloured livery in his mirror as he pulled over at one point to let us all past. Thank you to that man. 🙂

5We pulled up at Lady Bower lake along the way for a photo opportunity and a Ferrari 550 joined our convoy of around 20 cars. Back on the road at the next straight each car slowed before accelerating hard along the road for a short time. My little Cayman tried its best and I was pleased with the performance, until I noticed the SLK glued to my bumper. “That Merc is a bit quick” says I to my passenger. “It wants to be, its a 5 litre AMG”. Ah. Jestful comments will surely be made of my performance at the next meet point and I wasn’t disappointed. 😆

Next stop, Tesco’s in Glossop and here we meet a whole new bunch of cars. Noble M12s, F355s, 360s and F430s (including Challenge Stradale models), a Lamborghini Gallardo, Audi RS4’s and many others. All cars of varying combinations of loud, mad, rare and colourful surely made for a great sight for passers by.

As we departed for Manchester, an impromptu automotive form of willy waving ensued as the engines were started. From the Corvette positively barking its authority like claps of thunder, to the Tubi F355 whaling like a screaming banshee and everything in between, it was a piston head’s audible delight!

Supercars

Supercars

Onward now to Manchester via a few more twisties and a short motorway dash to meet the rest of the team, before a drive through the town centre. As the convoy exits the motorway we are caught by some traffic lights. A van man pulls up next to us. With a big grin he asks “What’s all this then, ‘2 Fast, 2 Furious’ or something?!”. We laugh in agreement and he added “Your car looks lovely!” as the lights turn green.

At this point, getting lost became a regular occurrence and confusingly we’d often see super cars heading in all directions at junctions trying to find their way onto the correct road. “Are they lost, or are we?” became the question of the day. At a set of lights, we pulled up next to one of the Nissan GTRs for a quick chat on directions. “Are we racing then?” jokes the driver. “Go on then, next green” says I, “Just to next lights” a few hundred yards ahead. The lights change (AMBER I might add!! 😉 ) and the GTR is off under a crescendo of noise. I feel rather stupid. My mate looks at me as we sheepishly set off “So… you weren’t ready then?”.

Finally we arrive at the War Museum in Manchester and meet the final herd of our precession. Around 60 super cars are now gathered together and its a real sight to behold with so many different models and colours, not a single car looked the same as another one. After coffee and conversation we head off around a predetermined route through the city centre. A route which was unexpectedly thwart with roadworks, making for even more comedy lostness.

More supercars

More supercars

As we all queued heading towards a roundabout, the roadworks brought us all to a standstill. Other motorists ambled past us in the outside lane, all occupants with huge smiles on their faces as they drove past some of the fastest most desirable cars in the world. A rare sight to see one Ferrari on the road, even rarer to see a Noble or a Lambo. To see 50 or so all lined up in a row was a great visual scene.

Silver Ferrari F430 and Grey F550

Silver Ferrari F430 and Grey F550

As we get through the roadworks, cars go off in all directions. Eventually, most cars gather together on the same road and the driver of the silver Ferrari F430 is in familiar territory so agrees to take the lead. With cars ditched in bus stops and filter lanes waiting for everyone else to catchup, amazingly the rest of the population don’t seem phased by this. Normally one would expect horns to be blaring and expletives to be shouted out of open windows. But not today, I suspect a collective respectful understanding was in the air and the people of Manchester allowed us a minor chaos whilst we sorted ourselves out.

By now I was 3rd from the front and the group frequently got divided by the traffic lights. A Challenge Stradale was somewhere near the rear of the group and you knew they were on their way again as the echo of the engine under acceleration filled the air from several streets away. We were parked in a lay by near a large pedestrian square and the Silver F430 commanded attention from absolutely everyone. Public smiles grew and grew as more exotica came around the corner. The red Ferrari’s, the yellow Corvette and the almost luminous green 911 GT bringing up the rear.

After traveling around the streets of Manchester we regrouped at the War Museum once again before heading of shortly afterwards.

For me, this is the pinnacle of motoring as a car enthusiast. Such a rare bunch of cars gathered together usually only occurs at car shows. Yet the inherent flaw at a ‘show’ is that all this fantastic automotive machinery is static. Having a convoy of like-minded, level headed enthusiasts driving together actively yet responsibly, enjoying the sights of new roads and towns is what it should be about.

Challenge Ferrari

Challenge Ferrari

As a youngster, and even now, to see several million pounds of the most desirable cars in the world all passing by in my town would bring an uncontrollable grin to my face, and would be a lengthy talking point in the pub that evening. I think that the collective achieved this in Manchester yesterday and I for one felt very privileged to be just a small part of such an amazing group.

BMW M3 and Lambo

BMW M3 and Lambo

And what of the owners of these great cars? Far from being elitist, everyone was approachable and relaxed – just ‘normal’. Friendly, regular guys and gals with a like-minded passion for cars, all expressed in various automotive shapes and sizes. From the sophistication of the blue Aston Martin to the hardcore of the orange Westfield, everyone expressed their hobby in a different way – and that’s what made this meet such a special one.

After a great day out, we headed home, once again over the snake pass – the group now disbanded. The swan song of the day was the AMG Merc – behind me on the first leg of the journey and arrived in my rear view mirror once again as we arrived into Sheffield, shortly before going our separate ways a few minutes later and signaling the close of what was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

£400 was raised for the Museum charity by the group as a thank you for allowing us to use their car park.

A huge thank you goes to Richard and Adam for arranging our motley crew in such an organised fashion.

A few name checks and thanks to a few of the many people who I spoke to during the day…

  • Merc AMG for being a good sport. Are you getting that F430 next then after your passengaer ride?! 😉
  • The guy in the 911 Turbo who used to have the Cayman – nice car dude!
  • The guy at Sheffield in the Aston Martin, just for having such a cool car.
  • ‘Brute’ for having by far the most awesome sounding car in the history of the world.
  • The Silver F430 for being such an uncontrollable head turning, traffic stopping car – and changing my previously held opinion that a Red Ferrari is the only Ferrari to have!

Here’s to the next meet. Personally, I can’t wait! 🙂

TVR

TVR

June 2010

Cayman Diaries: New Tyres

With summer on the cusp of arriving here in the UK I thought it was time to show off the car to its best potential and put the 18″s back on. I’ve been delaying the change over due to the increased firmness of the ride on the bigger wheels. However, a recent invite to the Sheffield Supercar Sunday meant that I wanted my little motor to be looking its very best.

The rear tyres were down to the nuckle so purchased some new ones from Blackcircles.com. The price was a reasonable, but not particularly cheap £530 for a pair of Mitchelin Pilot Sports, fully fitted. These are the same tyres that I’ve always had on the Porsches, this time in the N4 rating. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any N3’s to match the front. However, I’m led to believe that the N ratings don’t need to match as long as the axel has the same on each side.

Whilst not the cheapest price, Blackcircles service was excellent. On payment I was allocated my own representative who would peraonlly handle and of my queries, and who would be carrying out my order to completion. In the world of call centres that we now live in, such attention to detail was a welcome suprise.

I had the tyres delivered to a local garage who fitted them for me.

Looking great once again, we are now all set to go for the meet in Sheffield!!! Read all about it here 🙂

Cayman Diaries: MPG Rocket

Here is some photo evidence of how economical these cars can be if you do some hypermiling.

This is doing around 55-58mph via cruise control on a relatively flat section of 3 miles of motorway.  Not bad huh! OK, so it was a small section of motorway, biased towards economy but hey its still do-able! 🙂

Cayman MPG - 52.1mpg

Cayman MPG - 52.1mpg

Cayman Diaries: Professional Detail and Paint Correction

The Cayman has finally had its bath! I took the car to Tony Spears of Autoshine in Wakefield, who specialise in full detail valets and paint correction.

After 18 months I decided it was due a good pampering and so off it went for a weekend of TLC.

Tony gave the car the full treatment. When the car went in, there were a number of items which I drew his attention to in particular:

1) The swirl marks which had appeared after 18 months of washing. I wanted it like new again.
2) The rear bumper had stained up to the spoiler with black dirt. I thought this might have been trapped dirt between the paint and the polish, if I hadn’t cleaned it thoroughly enough before polishing last year.
3) The leather (as mentioned in my previous post) had become scratched on the side bolsters. Could anything be done to mask and restore this?

I left the car on a glorious Saturday for Tony to do his bidding and collected Sunday afternoon.

On collection, the car was outside in the sunshine and looking spectacular. All of the swirl marks had gone and the paintwork was shining bright red once again! The wheels looked immaculate and the carpets and trim faultless.

Spearsy attributed the stains on the rear bumper to be likely from the exhaust and took a great deal of effort to remove. But remove he did and it looks brand new. As does the exhaust pipe, which was looking rather black.

The leather bolsters had also been re-dyed which had significantly lessoned the scratched look, almost to the point where they are unnoticeable. Unfortunately, the seats are coloured in Porsche’s own interpretation of ‘black’, so the dye is slightly darker than the seat which is currently noticeable. Tony suggested this will likely fade over the short term as it’s the area which gets the most wear. But I left with an assurance that if it doesn’t, to bring the car back and he will blend it fully into the seat to make it unnoticeable. 🙂

The interior now smells fresh and clean and looks lovely. The leather seats were properly cleaned and have returned to their firm to sit, yet supple to touch feel which is great.

So… with thoughts of fantastic photo opportunities (via a short shopping trip to Leeds) my lady and I departed.

And then 4 minutes (yes, 4 minutes) later the heavens opened. They really opened. The Lord was having a full-on sprinkler sesh and it was all aimed at my car. Shortly afterwards, the ice maiden got involved in the histrionics of this unfortunate turn of weather events and decreed that hail stones would now be the choice weapon of the gods.

With a scowl on my face like a shrivelled up walnut, we powered down a soaking wet motorway into the city. As my girlfriend wandered up and down the isles in the shop, all I could do was stare out of the exit window at my newly shiny motor being seriously beaten by torrential downpours courtesy of Mother Natures own hand. Payback for all that C02 I imagine. Gutted!

Cayman After Detailing - in the rain!

Cayman After Detailing - in the rain!

“Don’t worry about it” came the comforting attempts of my good lady. “Its now well polished, the rain isn’t even sticking to it”. She had a point. As we were driving along, watching all the tiny beads of water bouncing and sliding off the paintwork like ants on a windy ice rink was very satisfying. Spearsy done good.

Arriving home, I parked it up in the garage and a call to Tony was now in order to ascertain how to clean it without reappointing my own mark of swirls again. “Use a soft cloth to wipe off the rain, ideally a micro fibre” was the answer.

So, back at the garage and assessed the impact. It was positively filthy. Huge mud marks all down the lower end of the car. I gingerly tried to remove these marks which were now in the process of drying. Amazingly, all the dirt seemed to just fall off the newly polished paintwork. No scratches, no marks, just a very gentle wipe over and it was looking great again. And then the sun came out!

Time for some photos. Bar

Cayman Detail 13

Cayman Detail

e in mind that these are taken in the late afternoon, after the aforementioned weather incident and the pics then shrunk to be web-friendly. So the quality isn’t great but it looks so very clean!

I’m hoping Tony took some photos whilst it was in his possession, which I’ll dutifully add to here if he has any.

 So, in short- £250 well spent. The car really does look and smell like new, inside and out. Even those annoying bits that get all kinds of crap in them were nicely cleaned (see my piccy of boot releases – previously full of crumbs and other bits, but now clean. Looking in the side mirrors when driving along is great. As the suns rays move across the paintwork, it looks like a water ripple moving over the arches.

When I entered the garage the next day the whole room smelt of fresh polish! Awesome, my car has a fragrance! eau-de-Cayman.

A detail like this is highly recommended if you want to return your car to sparkly as-new showroom condition.  I’ll be back to see him in the next few weeks for my chat on how to clean it properly before I steam in again with my sponge.

Cayman Detail - Looking red!

Cayman Detail - Looking red!

 

Cayman Diaries: Detailing Photos

Those post-detail pictures in full…

Cayman Diaries: Service time

The time has finally come to have the Cayman serviced. At 31,000 miles it was due for its 20k service interval (the 40,000 major no less).

Cayman at service centre

Cayman at service centre

As mentioned before, I decided to take the car to Porsche Euro in Barnsley. They are Porsche mechanics from a previous life and are a top notch bunch of fellas with all the latest diagnosis kit for old and new Porsches. At half the price of the OPC and service carried out at a time that suited me the best, I had no grounds for complaint.

aaaah nuts!

aaaah nuts!

The work carried out as per schedule was;

  • Major Service using all genuine Porsche parts
  • Brake Fluid change (not technically required for another 5 months, but I got the timings wrong)

Additional work carried out;

  • Cleared the leaves and debris from the radiator
  • Replaced an interior light bulb that had blown (well, technically it had fallen out of place but it was sorted).
  • Replace blown fuse for the 12V socket.
  • Seatbelt was twisted – fixed and no longer floppy. (I know what your thinking “can’t you do anything yourself?!).
  • Resprayed all of the wheel nuts back to lovely silver. This was an unexpected offering and done and I was delighted at the result! Very, very impressive service.
  • Sorted out the “Depress Clutch” problem on starting. Replaced the soloid/clip beneath the clutch pedal.  Fixed!

After the full service inspection, the only recommendation/warning was that the brake pads will require replacing very shortly on the fronts, possibly the discs too – but this will be confirmed when it goes in for the pads in the next month or two. The car isn’t used a massive amount now so the few millimeters that are left will probably go for a while before the warning light comes on reminding me of either rectification or imminent doom.

Porsche Cayman Engine

Porsche Cayman Engine

Cayman at Porsche Euro cars

Cayman at Porsche Euro cars

If you need your car servicing, I can highly Porsche Euro. There was a classic 964 cab which is having work done as part of a restoration, and a 997 arrived as I was on my way out for its service also. Euro would have also washed my car as part of the service, but I declined on this occasion due to time constraints – plus I want to “get my moneys-worth” from Mr Spears next week on my pro-detail! 😆

Next Up.
Detail – restoring my car to shiny and clean ‘as new status’ (yes, I have high expectations!) pictures to follow of the detail in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

Cayman Diaries: April Update….

Usage / MPG

My good lady has recently got a new job and the location benefits catching the train to work and back so I have been using her car several days a week. This has meant the Cayman is now used a couple of times a week and for fun days out at the weekend, which is great!

Cayman and Caravan!

Cayman and Caravan!

Last weekend we went for a visit to my parents caravan by the seaside for a bit of a break on the cheap. Hurrah!! It was a bit muddy though, so the Cayman played the job of mud-plugger nicely for the few days we were there. Don’t worry folks, it was treated to a nice wash when we got back!

Problems
Over the recent months the car has been having trouble starting, with “Depress the clutch pedal” lighting up on the dashboard when the car is cold. This only happens when its cold and is getting progressively worse. My mate Google told me that its likely to be a microswitch which isn’t detecting that the clutch is engaged when the ignition is fired. A quick call to my local indi confirmed this should be relatively inexpensive to repair.

Service
The service is now due, so I’ve booked the car in with Porsche Euro in Barnsley. I  received an initial quote of £1018 from Porsche Leeds for the major service (reduced to just over £600 after my club discount and deleting the spark-plugs maintenance as these are not required for another 5 months).

However, Euro came in well under this price and will also be doing a few extra jobs for me whilst its in. John and his team have had a poke around my cars computer a few months ago and found them to very competent, so they will be getting my business once again. Try as I might, the Yorkshire-man in me just cannot justify a 100% markup for exactly the same job at the OPC, even after discounts – it just doesn’t reconcile in my mind.

My previous specialist in Sheffield (used for the Boxster) are now a little pricey – almost to OPC prices. I think they are now aiming their market more towards the Ferrari and Lambo fraternity, whom they also service. I would still highly recommend them for anyone in that area though, wanting an alternative to the main dealer.

Full service update next month.

Wash…
Having sorted the service out, I’m arranging a good ol’ clean with my local Detailer for later this month – full pictures to follow! 🙂

In other outings, here is a piccy at the office, next to a Boxster….

Cayman and Boxster

Cayman and Boxster

Electric Power
For anyone interested, I recently drove a Prius. An interesting car indeed! Read my review here….

Where is my 911??
I keep putting my name down for a 24 hour test drive, but no luck yet. I’ll keep trying…!

2008 Toyota Prius

I had already got some broad ideas for an introduction for this article. It started with an apology to all those other motorists on the M1 during my journey, having forced them to view my wonder-wheels and in doing so considering me to be one of the smug, self-satisfied, hype believing misled eco warrior wannabes.

You see, I love cars. I love sports cars even more but equally I don’t like being lied to. Climate change, carbon emissions and all that jargon is a controversial subject and one which no-one can conclusively prove. There are as many reports negating the human impact on the environment as there are doom mongers who say the end of the world is nigh just because I’m driving to work in a morning and I like my heating on at night.

The marketing for the Eco-friendly hybrid alternatives has been somewhat lame. Aimed at a stereotypical road-going train spotter who likes wearing cream trousers and knitted jumpers, the eco-cars have a functional design to match the target audience.

Enter the Prius.

Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

To look at, you could be forgiven for thinking it was one of the lower end Korean car manufacturers’ best attempt at a cheap family hatchback. I mean, really – could it be any more bland an uninspiring? To look like this, with no real shape or design influence one could only assume it has been done deliberately.

This is the revised model and looks marginally better than the original Prius, with the very latest model looking better still. Looking at it individually it looks ‘OK’ – it certainly isn’t offensive, but it doesn’t stand out. You are an absolute man of anonymity in this car. Add to this the silent running engine and you feel invisible too as you wait whilst another person ambles across your path not realising that the car is actually in motion.

At the petrol station over the weekend, I pulled up next to a BMW M5 and in comparison my little Prius looked seriously cheap and very, very tacky. A different league, granted, but you’ll never win over well-heeled businessmen with this box that’s for sure.

Regardless, my recent business trip meant my choice was either a Passat, or a Prius. After the age old comedy line to the assistant who has probably heard it a hundred times as to whether the car will send me headlong into a field of its own accord, I chose the Passat. But all night, I couldn’t help but wonder what a Prius might be like to drive. A hybrid – electric car. An interesting prospect. Petrol heads pre judge them, yet Eco’s and Hollywood love them. I’m of an open mind and curiosity got the better of me.

The next morning I swapped my choice and here she is… all silver and….dull.

The Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius

But there much more to this car than its looks. The last time I had instructions on how to get a car moving was 15 years ago when I started driving. Yet here I am again, this time with a bit of scrap paper in hand telling me what to do next. Shove the plastic fob into hole. Press brake. Press Start. A few bits of whirring, then electric pops and bangs. Nothing else. Hmmmm… Embarassingly I opened the door to see if I could hear any sound of engine/electric noise. Nope. Has it really started? Strange business this electric stuff. I checked my scrap of paper again. “Check dashboard”. It dutifully tells me that the car is now ‘ready’, so apparently we’re ready. Tap the gear stick over to Drive, punch the ‘hand’brake with your left foot(!) and we are off!

The first thing that you realise is that this car ain’t normal and this makes it truly fascinating. But a little frustrating. Either way never before has my journey home, stuck solid in Friday traffic being so entertaining!

Inside
In the cabin nothing is where it should be. I would imagine this is deliberate to remind the driver that they are in something special and ‘futuristic’. The Speedo is right out below the window, along with the fuel gauge. Nothing else of interest is up front, all functions are on the centre screen. More on this in a moment.

Toyota Prius Interior

Toyota Prius Interior

The driving position isn’t great to say they have so much room available. The steering wheel is down around my knees, but the driving seat is elevated, feeling more like a people carrier. It is very odd. The plastic on the dashboard looks cheap – and there is a lot of it. The design is like something you’d imagine from a future production car but watered down with some of today’s naff budget material. Maybe if it was all shiny smooth white gloss or something we’d have a real future box on our hands!

The readouts do not tell you any of the typical stuff your used to in a car. Thermostat? Nah. Oil pressure? Nope. Gear selection? None of that here. Your in ‘drive’ – that means ‘go forward’ and that’s all you need to know. The unconventional design of the engine is truly interesting marvel of engineering. There are no gears, just some fancy wizardry best described with planets, orbits and some electrical brains controlling it all.

What about that centre screen then? First up, the bad news – its too far away. To press the climate button, or any other button to the left of the screen, you have to stretch. And See that typical radio below the screen? It doesn’t actually display anything. It is just a shiny bit of plastic. Audio, Climate, Phone, SatNav and fuel consumption outputs are all controlled and viewed on the centre screen. But this causes some confusion. The radio for example is very higgledy piggledy. If you want to change the station, you have a number of disarrayed options. First you select the physical radio button next to the screen (stretch). Then you use the touch screen to select the station. Or you can use the buttons on the steering wheel. Unless you want to manually scan the band, in which case you use the ‘real’ radio below, which has ‘real’ buttons for manual scanning. But this makes the steering wheel controls manual-scanning too. To make them navigate through the presets, you have to hit the touch screen again. The volume is on the ‘real’ radio, but bass and treble are on the touch screen. Its very all-over-the-place. The JBL speakers are Just Bloody Lousy too.

Toyota Prius Dashboard

Toyota Prius Dashboard

And don’t get me started on the stat nav. This actually had me shouting, screeching and literally punching the buttons at the weekend during a period of lostness in Leeds city centre. Its absolutely sh1te and that’s being kind. For a kick off you can’t set it going when the car is moving. OK, so I shouldn’t be doing anything whilst driving but what about my passenger eh? You know she is there, Prius; you were frantically panicking about the seatbelt earlier. There is also no postcode search. When you have finally entered your destination, you have NO CLUE as to whether it is plotting a route or not; the SatNav will, out of the blue, start barking orders at you after a period of uncertainty. But where it will take you is anyone’s guess. I wanted a road 2 miles away which, despite being there since Leeds was invented, wasn’t on the SatNav. So I programmed in the nearest main road. I checked it had found the correct road and it estimated an hour an a half to arrival – trying to send me back onto the motorway!!

And THEN…. after sending me back on the ring road for the umpteenth time I couldn’t shut her up!! I swear I had steam coming out of my ears as my missus frantically pressed each and every button to try and get the stupid thing from telling me repeatedly, at every button press to “take next left” (in the wrong direction). Absolutely DIRE.

Ass-glass

Ass-glass

The Verdict

So, the Prius is a bit rubbish then?

Well.. actually no. Having lived with it for a week and several hundred miles I am surprised to say that, for the job it is intended, it is actually quite good. It’s very quiet for a start. The engine sounds coarse if your giving it some beans and much prefers cruising. But when you are cruising it is a genuinely nice place to be. If you are a motorway kind of guy then this car gives a relaxing ride.

The steering lacks sporty feel as does the handling, but then it’s not even remotely trying to be sporty. It wants to waft about and it wafts nicely without giving you a sea-sick feeling. The seats don’t have side bolsters which I thought would be uncomfortable but both my lower-back and my mind completely disagree. You arrive at your journey end relatively relaxed and I’ve had not even a hint of back pain whilst driving this car.
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Economy

Prius Fuel Consumption

Prius Fuel Consumption

So what about fuel economy? The computer recorded an impressive 62.7mpg on the way home from work. This is a 30 mile commute, largely motorway and on a Friday afternoon means a fair amount of stop/start. Remember this is a petrol engine (cool) and an electric engine (cooler) not a clunky diesel. Overall, for a full tank of petrol doing a long motorway stint and local road driving, we averaged a computer indicated 48mpg. A point to note is that the computer over embellishes a little with its accuracy – a few sums revealed that a real world figure on this occasion was actually 41mpg. However the car is no slouch and accelerates quicker than you’d expect and can handle motorway speeds and overtaking with aplomb. A breathless underpowered car this isn’t.

Toys
The Prius also has a rear view camera, with computer aids imprinted on the screen to help you park. If that’s not enough, then the car will also park itself on your behalf. With a few presses of the touch screen, the Prius will reverse itself into a parking space or parallel park at your behest. Watching the steering wheel move about on its own its fantastic fun and when taking it to show my parents, my mum’s face was an absolute picture. “Its like Knight Rider!!!” she exclaimed! Being an old-school mechanic, my Dad loved the technology and engineering but wondered about longevity and future costs. This is something I have also considered – would this make a good used buy I wonder? Time will tell.

Here is a little (and a little naff) video I made showing the park assist doing its thing…

Summary
In America, the majority of people drive a petrol car. Big lazy engines with poor miles per gallon. There isn’t a great infrastructure for LPG or diesel and I’ll wager many other countries are the same. So here is a huge target market for the Prius, diesel economy from a petrol car whilst waving a ‘green’ flag with its eco posterior (the “Hybrid Synergy Drive” no less – sounds good doesn’t it!).

In the UK its a good alternative if you don’t want the tractor sound of a derv-burner. As a car-fiend, I absolutely couldn’t have this car as my only means of transport. It’s not exciting enough. But to get you to work and back, with something special tucked away for the weekends it absolutely does make sense. It really is worth considering as a company car. Zero road tax, fella’s!

This car is comfortable, quiet, has great gadgets and enjoys promising fuel economy. If you are the kind of guy or gal who sits on motorways in traffic then you’ll benefit the most. If it’s a relatively clear journey for your day to day commute, then the Prius may be a tad worse than a diesel. The nifty Toyota really comes into its own in traffic and it does excel in this area. But please, please, please – buy a TomTom.

Hybrid Synergy Drive!

Hybrid Synergy Drive!

Final Thought
When your stuck in traffic, it really does perk you up a bit knowing that your spending absolutely no money whilst crawling past another set of bollards. I guess owners can be justifiably smug in a Prius.

Now all Toyota need to do is wrap all this eco technology in a body that we will actually want to buy. The new Celica perhaps?

April 2010

‘Service’ or ‘Care’

Recently, both our cars have been in the garage for some paint repairs. The circumstances surrounding each have been different, but ultimately the goal was the same.  Both companies (Ford and Porsche) agreed to undertake the work and both outsourced the work to a 3rd party. The only difference being that we were paying Ford to do the work, whereas Porsche were doing complementary. Additionally Ford are two miles from our house whereas Porsche is a hundred.

The Fiesta had a slight chip in the door which had scraped the paint off, caused by some mindless moron banging their door against ours in a car park. The Cayman had a fault with the lacquer on the front bumper and required re-spraying.

After calling the Porsche centre from whom I’d purchased the Cayman, they agreed to do the work without question. I informed them I could only get to the dealership on weekends – they said they would arrange a courtesy car for the week, no problem. After calling on the morning before I set off, we headed up the motorway. We entered the showroom – immaculate, looking more like a high tech business office with very expensive toys than an oil shop. Greeting us was the smartly dressed receptionist, not a hair out of place. After I informed her of our business, she contacted the sales manager. He arrived momentarily, just as another member of staff came over to offer us a drink.

Mark, the sales manager, came out with me to inspect the problem. He was surprised at problem and said it would be rectified without question. After some general chatter, Mark showed me to my courtesy car – outside the front door. A brand new Cayman S, PDK. “We’ve filled the tank up for you to use and we will fill up your car on your return for the inconvenience. I think you’ll really enjoy this car.”. Nice!!!

We finished our drinks and after a couple of obligatory signatures, we left in the showroom in what is without question the best sports car I have ever driven. A few days later, Mark called again to say that my car was ready. It had been fully valeted and was now in the showroom to keep it looking good as new until I could pick it up. I said this would be at the weekend. “No problem”. On our return the following week, I was shown to my car, gleaming in the lights of the showroom – immaculately presented. We swapped keys and I went on my way completely satisfied, in both the work and the service I had received. Cost to me? £zero.

Next up, was the turn of the Fiesta. We arranged a courtesy car for this as well, as my lady needed it for work. After numerous calls to the dealership and always explaining the situation at length to whoever was on service desk, to avoid being incorrectly directed to some bizarre call centre, our car was booked in. We also got to the dealership as soon as it opened so that we could be away quickly for work. On arrival, we queued at the reception. For about 20 minutes. No matter, this is a busy dealership and Ford sell a lot of cars so they are bound to have a lot of people. Plus I can look at the cars in the showroom – regardless of the Marque, I like showrooms and Fords Kuga and Focus ST are particular favourites of mine.

Eventually it was our turn. The receptionist, dressed in a Ford jumper akin to the coat of a shaggy dog was something of a contrast to Porsche. “Go on, crack a smile” – the words repeatedly swimming through my brain – but I held my vocal chords back on account of moral decency. I couldn’t help but grin though.

“We’ve got a courtesy car booked”. Insurance forms were promptly displayed for the courtesy car – which we had to pay for. After waiting several minutes for them to find the keys, “its over in that direction” was our informed location. “Just put in the amount of fuel you think you’ll use”. Oh dear, an empty tank then. Why can’t dealers leave them fully fuelled, and instruct to bring them back full on return?

We found the car eventually, a boggo standard Ford Fiesta. But it was in a different colour, so my girlfriend was happy. Until we got inside. Squeezing the driver door into the narrow space between the huge Transit parked next to it we encountered another problem. On that frosty morning the screen was completely iced over. And being a cheap-as-chips model it had no quick-clear front screen. Or air con. Or a scraper. Or de-icer. So, there we sat, with a car with such little fuel that I thought it might not even make it out of the forecourt, much less get us to a petrol station, waiting for the screen to clear.

After a few minutes I headed over to my car to get my scraper. We were now 30 minutes into the experience of simply dropping a car off. “I’m going to be late, I’ll have to take your car” my girlie said to me. I didn’t mind, but knew she was looking forward to driving a ‘different’ model. Being late, and the fact that it was simply the same car but much lower in the range took the tinge of the dream. A few minutes more and one of the employees came out with de-icer. A bit late now as my lady was on her way in my car. Eventually the screen was cleared and I limped to the nearest petrol station and finally set off for work.

After several chase-calls and an extra day, my car was ready. After payment I went to pick it up. It was “somewhere in the car park”. Its a big car park. I scoured the whole place several times and after 10 minutes, I went back in. “Oh, it might be in the compound then”. They took me to the rear of the building in a lockup area, and there it was. Hurrah! Unfortunately I couldn’t tell how good the paint job was as it was dark and there was no lighting. Left to my own devices I squeezed into the car – again parked dangerously close to the van next to it and went home….

Both companies had completed the work perfectly, both cars have been expertly finished and you can’t tell that any work has been done. We are very happy with the end result but the two journeys couldn’t have been more different. With Ford it felt like a chore taking the car in and a relief when we got it back. Contrast this to Porsche who provided an event and an experience – and made me seriously consider trading up to buy the courtesy car.

An there-in lies what I believe to be the difference between an after-sales service and exemplary customer care.

Jan 28th 2010

Cayman Diaries: Happy New Year!

Small update
Well, the 17″ wheels are back on the Cayman again. The tyres on the 18s are past their best and the rock-hard drive was giving me backache.

One of the 17’s had a puncture so I took it down to the local ATS to sort it. The puncture was too large for a spot repair so was sent away. The tyres were eventually put on around late November time. I’m happy to report that the 17s came as a relief to my back, as the car started to roll over potholes again rather than crashing into them like some hedonistic loony on a suicide mission. This has made the drive much more pleasant – and a bit quieter too.

The daily drive with the new wheels only lasted about a week though, at which point my girlfriend finished work so I’ve been using her car since. Then the snow came, so my lil’ car has been in its Garage for ages. I’ve taken it out for a spin once over the festive period and it was a great drive – but a very slippy one. I went sideways coming off a roundabout at about 10mph with only a small amount of snow flakage on the ground.  So, it went back in its box and the Fiesta has been the continued reliable daily driver.

I still love my little Cayman though!

Cleaning
I received some pennies for Christmas and I think these will be put to good use in the form of a full detail by our local car detailer in the coming months. And this time, it will actually happen!! Expect a detailed report and photos on this soon!

Off Topic
I’m hoping to get a test drive in a 997 in the next few months when my car goes in for its service, so I’ll create a report for that, and my lady bought me a Lamborghini track day for Christmas, which I CANT WAIT to do!!! Again, reviews and photos will be published in due course. Hurrah!

2009 Ford Fiesta Zetec

We collected our new Fiesta on March 1st 2009, our first brand new car!

2009 Ford Fiesta Zetec in Hot Magenta

2009 Ford Fiesta Zetec in Hot Magenta

My girlie has liked them since they came to the London Motor show and had a particular soft spot for the pinkie-purple one since she clapped eyes on it. A few months ago we took a trip to our local ford garage to see what sort of deals were on offer, all casual like with no intention of a purchase.

Fiesta Interior

Fiesta Interior

Two hours later, we had bought a new car! It was a choice between this pink colour and the bright yellow/green colour. My girlfriend chose the former after seeing a few green ones on the road, but no pink ones. The deciding influence also being the colour coded interior, which is lacking on the green one having only the dull-grey standard colour. A benefit of the pink dashboard is that it detracts from the scratchy plastic that Ford still use on its interiors. This something that is highlighted significantly on the grey dashboard, as the rest of the product is of very high build quality.

The delivery date was March 1st. After a few calls saying it would be delayed, then it wouldn’t, then it would again – it was delivered on 1st March.

The service by our local Ford garage has been great. We got a good deal on the car and also got free mats, mud flaps, and a few other bits and bobs. We went for the 1.25 Zetec model, as this offered a good balance between specification and price. We also purchased 2 years of servicing which, when purchased upfront, are discounted by a miserly £20 – but its still £20 in our pocket.

What stuff do you get?
Air con, CD player (which plays MP3 CDs), an iPod connection, alloys, quick-clear screen, Bluetooth connectivity (including phone capabilities) and a funky voice-activated radio! You can just talk to it to use many of the functions including the phone. The downside is that it doesn’t respond very well to ladies – I think it’s a trait of the technology requiring a more boomy voice to acknowledge. It also has very light power steering, and some fancy clutch wizardry, which makes it virtually un-stall-able.

What’s it like inside?

Ace! Its very nicely laid out, very up-to-the minute in trendiness. The dashboard is typical modern-car big, so it has its own little window on the side.  Ours, being pink, has a matching dashboard and seats and looks very funky indeed. Maybe a bit love or hate, but there won’t be many girls who don’t like it!

The seats have an appearance and feel from the class above; very nice and chunky with good lumbar support and huggy sides. I thought this might be a trait of the Zetec edition, but having recently driven a Fiesta in Style trim the seats did feel the same. Regardless, we think they are rather comfy.

The pre-purchase secret.
After getting home on the day we signed up to our new car, we had a look at personalised number plates and my girlie found one that she really liked. It was £400 so she thought it was a bit too expensive for her. Herein started my super secret purchasing plot of great surpriseiness. I contacted the dealership and told them of my little plan to buy the plate as a suprise and they agreed to keep it quiet. I purchased the registration entitlement and took this down to the dealer (thankfully it arrived in the post on a day I arrived home early!).

My lady said nothing else about the plate until the day we went to sign for the car (the week before collection). Amazingly, she had remembered the registration and asked if the dealer could try and get that one for her! The dealer played along with my game and said they couldn’t, as they can’t pick registration numbers any more (that bit is true).

The dealer was fantastic with my secret; they even printed copies of the agreement documents without any registration numbers and told my girlie that they don’t get the plate number until the 11th hour. In addition, our sales man instructed the mechanics to ensure the plates are not put on the car until the day before (they were kept in the boot), in case she comes down looking – and to keep the car in the compound at the back. It was funny listening to them going to lengths to keep my suprise under wraps when we were in the showroom – at one stage rushing into the garage bays to move it round the back when the salesman noticed she was in! Even the account manager pretended we hadn’t met before when we went in to sign. I think they went above what was required of them in this respect to make sure the collection day was that little more special for us, and I was very grateful indeed.

The collection day.
Our appointment was at 9am (first ones to collect!) on the 1st March. The car was parked outside the showroom in the car furthest from us. We were a few minutes early and after confirmation it was indeed our car, we went to have a look at it until the salesman was ready. The first thing my lady said as we walked over was “I wonder what my registration number is going to be!!” When she saw her lovely new car, gleaming in the sunlight with her private registration on it she got all teary and overwhelmed, bless her. To say she was happy was an understatement and was definitely the right decision to buy the plate. I think it just finishes the car off nicely and makes it more personal to her/us.

Since then….
The car turns just as many heads as my Cayman! A lot of people point at it, which my missus loves!

Fiesta Front View

Fiesta Front View

Driving the car is a very comfortable and relaxing experience – reminding me once again that you really don’t need anything bigger than this. It does everything very well, has all the creature comforts you could ask for and feels responsive when driving. I’m not allowed to thrash it (being carefully scrutinized by my lady, protective over her new little baby), so can’t really comment (too much 😉 ) on the handling characteristics. Fords are typically very good at this though and what I tried on the test drive you can certainly chuck it about and it leaves you with a nice grin!

Average MPG in 500 miles is 40mpg, so not too shabby at all. On long motorway journeys, it gets to a fuel sipping 48mpg+. Lovely!

It has been accessorised in a way that only girls can, including a Little Miss Naughty air fresher, a flower shaped tax-disc holder and a pink worm – all matching the car of course!

We have also bought some kick plates for it, after browsing the accessories catalogue. Buying the servicing up-front entitles us to 10% off accessories, so they came in at around £40. They look great too.

Summary
Good stuff:

Sprightly engines, very nippy and nimble.

Great chassis, feels sporty to drive.

Lots of bright colours to choose from – about time we had some nice fruity cars again, painting our urban landscape as they travel.

Good price, full of equipment that would put lots of other cars to shame. Feels well built.

Not-so-good stuff:
Air con comes on automatically every time you start the engine if you have the vents pointed to the front screen, which is a bit irritating as us lot in Blighty don’t really need air con until the 2 weeks of summer.

Plastics are still a bit scratchy, but the colourful dashboards do detract from this.

Voice Activated controls is temperamental to softer voices.

Paul Os verdict: A first brand-new car for both of us. A great car, great service, great great greatness. 🙂

March 2009

The “To-Do” List

I’m sure many car nuts have a to-do list, a list of cars they’d like to own at some point in their lives. There have been several on my list of  “cars that I must own” and I’ve now got just a couple left. There are some newer cars which I quite fancy, but this first list is my definitive selection of cars that I have always wanted….

Red Toyota MR2 The car that I always wanted from being but a small boy was the Toyota MR2. When the MK2 edition came out, I resigned myself to the fact that I had to have one at some point in my life. I achieved the dream in 2002 and it didn’t disappoint. It was a Rev3 with a sportier rear end, t-top roof and leather interior. In bright red, it was every inch the sports car I hoped it would be.
Boxster After that, my plan was a Boxster, which I purchased in 2005. The introduction to semi-convertible in the MR2 meant I had to go the whole hog and experience the full monty. I’d recommend anyone do the same.
Red Porsche Cayman The Cayman entered my to-do list not longer after its launch. I liked the shape and as soon as they brought out the 2.7 model I wanted one. I bought this in 2008.
Ferrari F355 Next up on the To-do list is a Ferrari in some guise. I’m not too picky. Either a 348, F355 or 360 will do me nicely thanks. They all look awesome in their own right.

The 348 has got a chequered reputation for both performance and reliability but they are well within the realms of initial purchase affordability. However, I have my doubts on how liveable an 80’s supercar would be in the modern traffic congested, pothole ridden, speed bump obsessed land that is Great Britain. I sat in one a few years ago and quickly realised that one would need knees and thighs of steel to move the clutch! But it would be a Fez in the garage, hey!

The F355 is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of Ferrari – and indeed all automotive – design. It looks exactly as a sports car should and doubtless will ever be bettered. This is largely reflected in the price of these cars, which now cost the same to buy as the 360. So, an expensive car with 90’s driveability then. Not one that you could enjoy on a commute without the AA card being close at hand.

That leaves the 360. A great modern Ferrari which could be used a lot more frequently than the other two – and in all weather. It could be left outside sometimes – even if it rained! The is the most tempting of them all, as I’m not very content with unreliable cars – they make me mad. I am also lazy, and the F1 gearbox looks appealing. The shape has a question mark in my mind, but its a modern Ferrari and it does look more up to date than the others. A further caution is that its almost as wide as a garage door, so success on keeping it hid away might be thwarted by its size.

Anyhow – One of those will satisfy the Ferrari craving, and it needs to happen in the next 5 years. I refuse to approach the mid-life crisis age with a Ferrari in the garage! Its just too stereotypical! Note to self: Work harder then. 🙂

Escort Cosworth The final car on my to-do list for now is the iconic Ford Escort RS Cosworth. “Cossie” for short. In red. This has been a desire twinned with the MR2 since my teen years and I still want one now as much as I did back then. Those phat wings and enormous spoiler had me hankering since day one. However, they are approaching 20 years old now and becoming even rarer. In addition, my girlfriend hates these with a passion like I’ve never known so true ownership experience might never come to fruition. But we’ll see!

The ‘Almost’ list
There are tons of cars that I like the look of, but they’ve not quite earned a place on the must to-do list (yet). These include the Jaguar XF, XK, Aston Martin, VW Scirocco, Lexus IS and a number of others. Here are some of my more interesting favorites…!

Red Toyota Celica 2000-2007 Toyota Celica.
I remember seeing one of these for the first time on the motorway. At the time it was a real edgy, fresh design and for some reason I’d not seen any pictures of this model prior to its release. I remember mouthing the word “Wow!” as it went passed. Initially I wondered if it was a new baby supercar! I’m still very fond of the looks and the shape, but as I’ve already got a small coupe on my To-do list, this car was pipped to the post by the Cayman. But never say never…
Crossfire Crossfire I’ve never been in one, and the reviews are generally not positive towards this little car, but I like the looks of them. They are quite rare and look smart, the convertibles have better dimensions than the coupe though..
Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayenne S. If you’ve read my reviews, you’ll know how much I love these cars. But the 18mpg and expensive running costs outweigh its desirability as a daily commutable at the moment.
MG ZS 2005 MG ZS. Cheap and chearful motoring from a legendary UK car company that ultimately lost its way. The last-of-the-line model was great to look at. I’m still not sure how this company went to the wall, as every other youth used to drive the smaller MG ZR. I really did think they were on the cusp of a great return to profitable british motorcars. I like the look of the MG ZS, but in real life it appears a lot more dated than some of the nice imagery that presents itself through the Auto-Trader.

The dream list
These two cars are reserved for those special “6 plus bonus ball” type moments. The outlay and running costs are reserved for the uber rich…

Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40. Poster for my bedroom wall when I was a child, this car represents the ultimate in motoring achievement. A rare sight on the roads keeps this car as revered today as it was when it was launched in the 80’s.
Lambo Gallardo Lamborghini Gallardo. The first time I saw one of these on the road, it overtook me on a dual carriageway. In shiny black with that pointy, purposeful nose it looked like a stealth bomber for the road. I’ve loved them ever since.