Some dreams just never re­ally stop

The Weekend Australian - Life - - MOTORING -

In the past two weeks I’ve been to Bar­ba­dos, In­dia, Turkey and Morocco. And hav­ing stud­ied these places in some depth, I’m forced to ask an im­por­tant ques­tion. Why doesn’t any­one buy sportscars any more?

By and large, driv­ing is ex­tremely bor­ing. You sit there lis­ten­ing to the en­gine moan­ing out its one long song, with your face in neu­tral and your mind turned off. Just look at the faces of peo­ple when they are at the wheel and tell me this: when do you ever see peo­ple look like that in nor­mal life? Gorm­less. Like fish.

When you are mow­ing the lawn or buy­ing wash­ing-up pow­der or hav­ing break­fast with the chil­dren, you are an­i­mated. You are think­ing about stuff. But when you are driv­ing a car, the dopamine and the sero­tonin and all the fun drugs that nor­mally course through your body just dry up. You be­come the un­dead. You be­come a zom­bie. Un­less you are driv­ing a sportscar.

A sportscar is ex­cit­ing when it’s parked in a mul­ti­storey and you’re in a meet­ing. A sportscar is even ex­cit­ing when it’s Novem­ber and it’s rain­ing and you’re on your way to a fu­neral. Be­cause in a sportscar you are liv­ing the dream that gives “the car” all of its ap­peal.

Re­mem­ber The Bal­lad of Lucy Jor­dan? She was sad be­cause she’d re­alised at the age of 37 that she’d never drive through Paris in a sportscar with the warm wind in her hair. To me that’s what cars are all about. No­body dreams of driv­ing through Paris in a Hyundai with the warm wind in their hair. Sportscars make you happy. But I’ve no­ticed on my re­cent trav­els that peo­ple are giv­ing up. The car is be­ing bought as a tool, not as a dream.

Re­mem­ber the film Battle of Bri­tain, when Christo­pher Plum­mer set off from his base to meet Su­san­nah York for a bit of in­ter-sor­tie rumpy-pumpy? He had an MG. Of course he did. He was a Spit­fire pi­lot. Whereas to­day I can pretty much guar­an­tee he’d have a Nis­san Juke.

I met an as­tro­naut once. He’d been to Top Gun school. He could han­dle an F-14 on com­bat power. And he had been the first man to dock a space shut­tle that was trav­el­ling at 28,000km/h. And yet he drove a Toy­ota Camry. It was tragic.

And at this point I should ex­plain what I mean by a sportscar. It’s not sim­ply some­thing with no roof. A sportscar must be lit­tle and light. It should have a small, revvy en­gine and no more than two seats. The Mazda MX-5 is a sportscar — and a bloody good one. It is the ob­vi­ous choice and yet all over Bri­tain there are peo­ple who wake up of a morn­ing and think, “If I bor­row some money and get a shed, I could make a sportscar that is even bet­ter.”

The lat­est of­fer­ing comes from Nor­folk. It’s called the Zenos and it’s a sportscar unplugged. Its de­sign­ers have looked at ev­ery de­tail of what isn’t needed and sim­ply thrown it away. Which means it has no doors, no win­dows, no sun vi­sors, no ra­dio, no car­pets and no roof of any kind. I have en­coun­tered bet­ter-equipped pen­cils.

The re­sult is a car that weighs just 725kg. That is ridicu­lously light. A Tri­umph Her­ald weighed about the same and that was made from tin­foil and hope. And a Tri­umph Her­ald was not fit­ted with the 2.0-litre tur­bocharged en­gine from a Ford Fo­cus ST. The Zenos is. Which means it has a Looney Tunes power-to-weight ra­tio. And that means it’s bloody fast.

To drive? Well, you climb over the side, hun­ker down into the un­padded seat, at­tach the steer­ing wheel and then do up the op­tional four-point har­ness, by which time the chap in the Mazda MX-5 — which has a fixed steer­ing wheel and in­er­tia reel belts — is back from his lap of the track, talk­ing about what fun he’s had.

You’re go­ing to have more — even­tu­ally. Be­cause when you are fas­tened in place and the wheel is on, the Zenos is a hoot. It’s more than just a track car fit­ted with in­di­ca­tors and lights to make it road-le­gal. And yet you know the track is where it be­longs re­ally.

It’s good when the go­ing is smooth and there’s noth­ing com­ing the other way. It feels bal­anced, as it should with the en­gine in the mid­dle. And as you jink this way and that, you think that maybe your com­mands are be­ing sent to the four cor­ners of the car us­ing telepa­thy.

The ex­haust bark is tremen­dous, but all you can hear re­ally is the waste­gate, which sounds like a fat man who’s us­ing Vic­to­rian plumb­ing to flush away the af­ter-ef­fects of a par­tic­u­larly enor­mous din­ner. The steer­ing be­came wear­ing too be­cause it’s unas­sisted and very fid­gety. And then, I’m afraid, we come to what might fairly be de­scribed as the turd in the swim­ming pool. The brakes.

An anti-lock sys­tem would solve the prob­lem, but the whole point of the Zenos is that you get no driver aids. I like that phi­los­o­phy, when I’m on a sofa and some­one else is do­ing the driv­ing in a race on the TV. But I’ll be hon­est, I like it a bit less when I’m head­ing to­wards a tree in a cloud of my own tyre smoke. At a time like that, you tend to think that maybe you would have been bet­ter off in one of the other low-vol­ume British sportscars that have the same amount of go as a Zenos. But can stop as well.

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