North­ern Ex­po­sure

We head north­east in the amaz­ing V6-pow­ered Rock­e­teer and dis­cover rugged coast­line, Gothic cathe­drals, chal­leng­ing moor­land roads and a road race cir­cuit in Scar­bor­ough Words: Steve Ben­nett Pho­tog­ra­phy: Antony Fraser

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

We take the bal­lis­tic Rock­e­teer V6 mk1 for a two-day ad­ven­ture to a sub-zero North York­shire

Right, time to fire up the sat­nav and hit the road again. There’s no time to lose be­cause the ‘Beast from the East’ is com­ing. Re­mem­ber that? Yes, for once the fore­cast­ers got it right and so we thought it pru­dent to get go­ing the week be­fore snow­maged­don hit, par­tic­u­larly as we are head­ing for the bleak and bru­tal North York Moors and nearby coast­line, with not even win­ter tyres for com­fort...

And there is a slightly dif­fer­ent flavour to this par­tic­u­lar road trip episode. Of­ten as not the car is not the star. Of course it must be an MX-5, but like so much in life

it’s more about the jour­ney, the car play­ing the en­ter­tain­ing com­pan­ion role, the means to the end, with some in­ter­est­ing places to drop into en route.

Not this time, how­ever. The car is very much the star and a rather vo­cal one at that. And I don’t mind say­ing that I’m rather ex­cited, too, but then who wouldn’t be with the prospect of three days at the wheel of an MX-5 with a Jaguar V6 en­gine up front?

That’s right, we’ve blagged our­selves a Rock­e­teer and Rocket Man is play­ing on a loop in my overex­cited imag­i­na­tion. Doesn’t ring any bells? Rewind to To­tal

MX-5 is­sue three, when we tested what was ef­fec­tively the pro­to­type Rock­e­teer, which we rather liked.we rather liked the prom­ise of what was to come, too, which is the car we have here for our north­ern road trip. It is, if you like, the pro­duc­tion ver­sion, that you too could build from a mk1 or mk2 start­ing point and for a not un­rea­son­able £5995. Go on, quickly do the maths. Even if you had to buy your­self a de­cent car to start with, you could have a 260bhp,v6-pow­ered MX-5 for com­fort­ably un­der £10,000. But we are rac­ing ahead of our­selves.

The long drive north for me starts not

“Needless to say, there is a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion as the key is turned and the 3.0-litre V6 spins up and crack­les into life

at the wheel of a growl­ing, big cat pow­ered MX-5, but my own Red Road­ster, which will be ful­fill­ing the role of cam­era car. Pho­tog­ra­pher Fraser has the plea­sure of point­ing the Rock­e­teer north­wards, see­ing as he is rather closer to Rock­e­teer’s Farn­ham base.whichever way you cut it, we both have nearly 300 miles to cover be­fore we ren­dezvous at the Fox and Hounds in Danby in the heart of the North York Moors. It’s as you would ex­pect, hewn from gran­ite to sur­vive the harsh el­e­ments, with a wel­com­ing fire and good York­shire ales. We would have gladly stayed for our sup­per had it not been coun­try mu­sic night, so we flee into the dark­ness and head down dale to Whitby for a hearty curry in­stead. It’s tempt­ing to leap straight into the Rock­e­teer, but this sub­zero, black night is nei­ther the time nor the place to get to grips with a po­ten­tially skiddy driv­ing com­pan­ion. That can wait un­til the morn­ing...

We’re no strangers to the North York­shire Moors. They are prime driv­ing ter­ri­tory, par­tic­u­larly the 20-mile stretch that runs from the A170 to the A171, also known as Blakey Ridge, which is as stern a test as any for a car in the UK.WE won’t be putting the Rock­e­teer through that to­day. No, we have a rather more gen­teel day planned.well, gen­teel ex­cept for a few laps around the UK main­land’s only per­ma­nent road rac­ing track.

Right now, though, it’s all about first im­pres­sions. Sit­ting in the morn­ing sun the Rock­e­teer looks very grown-up in black with con­trast­ing, deep-dished, an­thracite grey Rota Minilite style wheels. In­side, the in­te­rior has been re­trimmed in red quilted leather, which ex­tends to the door cards, door pulls, gear­lever gaiter and small lug­gage area be­hind the seats. The dash­board sur­faces are soft to the touch, with the same red leather cladding the bot­tom half. Qual­ity car­pet cov­ers the trans­mis­sion tun­nel and the footwells and a deep-dished, wood-rimmed Nardi steer­ing wheel adds that fi­nal touch. It’s more BMW Z4 in here, with a touch of Austin Healey, than Mazda MX-5. It’s a qual­ity job, too. Rock­e­teer’s Bruce Southey is ex of Range Rover pimp­ing out­fit Overfinch, and so en­trusted the re­trim to Overfinch’s reg­u­lar sup­pli­ers.

Needless to say, there is a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion as the key is turned and the 3.0-litre V6 spins up and crack­les into life. It sounds big and brawny, send­ing a deep pulse through the bodyshell as it shakes in a typ­i­cal off­beat V6 way on its en­gine mounts. Blip­ping the throt­tle elic­its a sonorous howl. Again, it’s more Z4 with a dash of Healey and cer­tainly not small and four-cylin­der. And why not a V8? Well, it’s not re­ally the Euro­pean way, is it? And be­sides, a V8 would al­ter the dy­nam­ics and bal­ance too much. The all-al­loy Jaguar V6 weighs no more than the iron-block stan­dard Mazda en­gine and sits slightly fur­ther back in the en­gine bay. The­o­ret­i­cally the han­dling shouldn’t be com­pro­mised.

Trick­ling out of Danby and the Rock­e­teer feels fa­mil­iar and very dif­fer­ent in equal mea­sure. The weight­ing of the vi­tal con­trols is all very MX-5. Not sur­pris­ing since the gear­box is stan­dard, the power steer­ing rack re­mains and the clutch – while stronger – is no heav­ier than stan­dard. No, it’s just that big lump up front that has changed, and with it comes a very dif­fer­ent propul­sive feel. The Jag V6 was pretty good at waft­ing the retro-look­ing S-type sa­loon around, so imag­ine what it’s like here. It’s the clas­sic big en­gine, small car combo. Oo­dles of power, wher­ever and when­ever, with gear chang­ing an op­tion, and that’s be­fore we’ve even left the vil­lage. It’s an MX-5, but not as we know it.

Pre the ‘Beast from the East’ weather

“York­shire folk are fiercely proud of their UK patch and its rugged charms, and tak­ing in the coast­line from Salt­burn to Scar­bor­ough, it’s not dif­fi­cult to see why

front, North York­shire is liv­ing up to its usual ‘four sea­sons in one day’ rep­u­ta­tion. I know we Brits are ob­sessed by the weather, but it’s no great sur­prise given the won­der­ful va­ri­ety we get thrown at us. I mean, who wouldn’t de­light at a typ­i­cal 10-minute weather win­dow of sun, sleet and rain, whipped up by a brisk northerly gale? ‘Turned out nice again’ doesn’t re­ally cut it.

York­shire folk are fiercely proud of their UK patch and its rugged charms and, tak­ing in the coast­line from Salt­burn to Scar­bor­ough, it’s not dif­fi­cult to see why. Bleak and beau­ti­ful in equal mea­sure, with pic­turesque fish­ing vil­lages nestling in nat­u­ral coves and grand Vic­to­rian re­sorts and ports, it’s the north­ern Riviera. Fol­low­ing the coastal road we drop in to the fish­ing vil­lage of Staithes, which could have been lifted from Corn­wall. And it is lit­er­ally a drop, with the tightly-packed stone build­ings clus­tered at the foot of a nat­u­ral cove. Don’t try it in the sum­mer: in fact, you will be ac­tively en­cour­aged to ar­rive on foot, but this be­ing Fe­bru­ary, we trickle the Rock­e­teer down the steep cob­bled road and coast into the har­bour in search of a good snap.

Of course there is still fish­ing, but Staithes is mainly tourist-driven th­ese days and its hard-to-get-to lo­ca­tion means that it’s largely un­touched by moder­nity. There’s plenty of the bi­jou and bou­tique about it, with lots of quaint B&BS, pubs and cof­fee shops. As a win­ter bolt-hole it would make for the per­fect base-camp lo­ca­tion to fur­ther ex­plore the coast­line.

We try not to make too much of a racket as we leave, but it’s steep and a first gear climb, and the twin pipes and V6 growl ric­o­chet off the clus­tered build­ings. Clear, and we head for Salt­burn where ex­pan­sive sandy beaches stretch out and grand Vic­to­rian build­ings over­look the prom­e­nade: the im­pos­ing Salt­burn cliff lift con­nects the two. The pier is the most northerly sur­viv­ing Bri­tish iron pier and the whole place ex­udes a for­mer gen­teel past that is most def­i­nitely re­turn­ing. Snap­per Fraser dis­agrees, but Salt­burn could be­come the Sal­combe of the north­east, which would be a wel­come leg-up to a re­sort which his­tor­i­cally lies in the East Rid­ings of York­shire and a stone’s throw from Mid­dles­brough. In short, I rather like Salt­burn.

I rather like Whitby, too. No leg-up re­quired here. The fish­ing town/port is the jewel of the north­ern coast­line, over­looked by the derelict Gothic abbey fa­mous as the in­spi­ra­tion for Bram Stoker’s Drac­ula and, of course, a mecca for that strange sub-cul­ture known as ‘The Goth.’ Drac­ula is, of course, fic­tional, but Whitby’s most fa­mous res­i­dent, Cap­tain Cook, most cer­tainly wasn’t and there is much to com­mem­o­rate the great sea ex­plorer, in­clud­ing a mu­seum.

Even in late Fe­bru­ary Whitby is busy with tourists so we don’t hang around for too long, fir­ing up the Rock­e­teer for the short hop to Scar­bor­ough. And how is the Rock­e­teer per­form­ing? Pretty well thank you very much, al­though it would be re­miss of me not to point out a lowspeed run­ning glitch, which is later traced to a dicky earth. And the truth is that the V6 ma­chine will be get­ting a rather more thor­ough work­out to­mor­row up on Blakey Ridge.

It would be easy to dis­miss Scar­bor­ough as all kiss-me-quick, fish ‘n’ chips and amuse­ment ar­cades. And, yes, it’s all of those things. But like Salt­burn it is ris­ing out of that down­ward spi­ral as the grand Vic­to­rian fa­cades and fea­tures are re­gen­er­ated, and the fast food em­po­ri­ums are joined by more up­mar­ket es­tab­lish­ments for a di­verse mix. Not that we take any such ad­van­tage of the poncy seafront Prezzo or Pizza Ex­press as we queue for fish and chips dowsed in salt ‘n’ vine­gar.

But frankly we’re not here for the sea­side de­lights. No, we’re here to ex­plore Oliver’s Mount, the afore­men­tioned road rac­ing track that over­looks Scar­bor­ough from up high in the tree-lined lime­stone cliffs.

It seems al­most to be a se­cret. There are no sign­posts for the cir­cuit, but prim­ing the sat­nav brings up Oliver’s Mount Road barely a mile from the seafront. It climbs steeply, passes through some park­land and then, open­ing up in front, is a nar­row rib­bon of su­per-smooth Tar­mac and un­mis­take­able race track fur­ni­ture such

“We ar­rive at the start with con­trol tower, podium (which needless to say I can’t re­sist) and a fully marked up grid

as mar­shals’ posts and track bar­ri­ers. This is the UK’S only pub­lic road rac­ing track and has been in op­er­a­tion since 1946, al­most ex­clu­sively for mo­tor­bikes be­cause of its nar­row width.

At 2.46 miles it’s not short, though, and as we start to ex­plore and work at com­plet­ing a lap, I am frankly as­ton­ished at this undis­cov­ered track.well, undis­cov­ered by me, at least. Many years ago I used to sprint and hill­climb a Cater­ham, and Oliver’s Mount was one of the cham­pi­onship venues, but some­how I never made it that far north. I’m kick­ing my­self now.

The track rises steeply through wood­land be­fore plateau­ing and then re­turn­ing down­hill, where even­tu­ally we ar­rive at the start with con­trol tower, podium (which needless to say I can’t re­sist) and a fully marked-up grid. There is a roll-call to all past win­ners of the ma­jor races that have been run and it’s a Who’s Who of Bri­tish and in­ter­na­tional bike rac­ing from Ge­off Duke and Mike Hail­wood to Barry Sheene and every­one’s favourite nut­ter, Guy Martin. And it’s a Guy Martin sort of a track, one that must favour the brave, al­though that ap­plies to most mo­tor­cy­cle road rac­ers re­ally. Put sim­ply, even with bar­ri­ers in place and more erected for race week­ends, there’s a lot of solid stuff to hit.

Right at the top of the cir­cuit there is a very twee tea­room. Dur­ing a down­pour we take shel­ter and tea and cake. Bizarrely, there is no men­tion of the grubby busi­ness of bike rac­ing and one won­ders whether the place is even open over a typ­i­cal race week­end. And check out the con­tacts at the end of the story, be­cause there is a full sea­son of rac­ing to be en­joyed ev­ery year, in­clud­ing the Oliver’s Mount Fes­ti­val of Speed in May, and the big event of the cal­en­dar, the Cock o’ the North Con­ti­nen­tal Road Races, in June.

Of course, as a pub­lic road any­one can drive around, and there is a 30mph speed limit, which we ad­here to. It’s great fun, though, and you can re­ally get a whiff of the po­ten­tial at­mos­phere of a grid full of bikes at full-pelt.

It’s get­ting on a bit now, so we head off. Pho­tog­ra­pher Fraser wants to get a moody sun­set shot on the moors with

RAF Fyling­dales in the back­ground, perched on the quirk­ily named Snod Hill. The radar base is part of the UK’S

Bal­lis­tic Weapons Early Warn­ing Sys­tem, al­though the huge and dis­tinc­tive ‘golf balls’ have now gone, leav­ing just the rather odd-look­ing tri­an­gu­lar ed­i­fice in Cold War grey.

With time to kill as the sun sinks

there’s time for a bit more Rock­e­teer tyre-kick­ing and un­der-bon­net gaz­ing. The en­gine fit is snug rather than tight and sits in a cus­tom-made cra­dle-cum­sub­frame. Be­spoke ex­haust man­i­folds eas­ily slip be­tween the block and the sus­pen­sion tur­rets, while the crown­ing glory is a car­bon-fi­bre plenum that utilises two stan­dard MX-5 throt­tle bod­ies to in­hale air through foam fil­ters. Ig­ni­tion and map­ping is han­dled by a Mo­tor­sport Elec­tron­ics ECU. All of this comes in the kit of parts. Bruce at Rock­e­teer can source an en­gine, too, which amaz­ingly can be picked up for as lit­tle as £300.You could prob­a­bly sell your stan­dard lump for more. Fit­ting is de­signed to be DIY and it does look en­tirely pos­si­ble. In­deed, there are some 25 kits now out on the mar­ket and some folk are us­ing the kit for non-mx-5 ap­pli­ca­tions in­clud­ing Ford Capris and Es­corts.

A qui­eter night in the Fox and Hounds and a crack­ing pie and chips is washed down with one or two (maybe more) pints of Wain­wrights. The fol­low­ing day we head up icy roads to Blakey Ridge to re­ally test the Rock­e­teer’s met­tle. Sur­pris­ingly, per­haps, the Rock­e­teer re­tains the MX-5’S stan­dard sus­pen­sion and spring rates, but then see­ing as the car is no heav­ier then that makes per­fect sense. There is lit­tle to beat the stan­dard setup on Bri­tish roads, and it’s so, so easy to make a mess of sus­pen­sion.

Up on the wild moors the road un­furls over a se­ries of crests. Roof down the V6 sounds fan­tas­tic and puts some real de­mands on the MX-5’S chas­sis. It’s not crazy with power, but there’s plenty enough to work the tyres and re­ally get the back end dig­ging in.what is a fairly two-di­men­sional stan­dard ex­pe­ri­ence is now a three-di­men­sional en­counter as the ex­tra power and torque, in par­tic­u­lar, has to be ra­tioned by the sen­tient on­board trac­tion con­trol sys­tem of brain and right foot. It’s fast – prob­a­bly

Porsche Boxster S fast – but com­pletely old school, in a way that sports cars just aren’t any more and in a way that the stan­dard MX-5 has never as­pired to, thanks to Mazda’s de­sire to keep it safe and fun, rather than fast and lairy.

The V6 could over­power and dom­i­nate in a way that, say, a Chevy LS1 V8 would, but it doesn’t. It’s as happy to cruise as it is to get on it, and very soon the de­fault driv­ing mode is to use the torque and the up­per gears to make rapid but re­laxed progress, the an­tithe­sis of the buzzy stan­dard, 16-valve ex­pe­ri­ence. It feels very grown-up, too, with its so­phis­ti­cated black paint­work and red leather, which is all very Jaguar, re­ally.

Time to go. The first icy blast of the Beast can be felt in the air. North York­shire is go­ing to be hit hard as we make our V6-pow­ered es­cape. We will be back on Blakey Ridge, no doubt, and Staithes, Salt­burn,whitby and Scar­bor­ough. Oh, and the bike rac­ing on Oliver’s Mount. Now that’s some­thing we re­ally want to see.

Fyling­dales’ bal­lis­tic mis­sile early warn­ing sys­tem on the North York moors

In the shadow of Whitby Abbey’s Gothic re­mains Con­tin­u­ing the Gothic theme: a spooky B&B, pre­sum­ably for Goths only… Scar­bor­ough’s im­pres­sive Vic­to­rian town­scape

Top: Nar­row, cob­bled streets of Staithes. Don’t at­tempt this in the sum­mer. Mid­dle: Cliff lift in Salt­burn. Bot­tom: Har­bour photo op­por­tu­nity, Staithes

Bot­tom hair­pin at Oliver’s Mount Many thanks to Bruce Southey for the loan of the Rock­e­teer. For full de­tails go to: www.rock­e­ For 2018 sea­son de­tails for Oliver’s Mount check out: www.oliv­ersmoun­trac­

Oliver’s Mount is the UK’S only pub­lic road rac­ing course. This gem of a cir­cuit nes­tles above Scar­bor­ough. Be­low: On the grid!

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