This was never meant to evolve into a story.
In fact, it was originally intended to be the very opposite; a rare weekend off doing car things just for doing car things’ sake. Something which doesn’t happen very often, you’ll be hardly surprised to read.
The plan was simple, but there was an ulterior motive of my own which I should probably fill you in on so this all makes sense.
You might have read at some stage that I happen to own a red Volkswagen GTI. I believe I’ve posted about it once or twice. To me, it’s a very special car because I never thought I would own something so capable that fills me with so much driving happiness.
Nothing has changed on that front, but when extraordinary is your only reference point when daily driving, it does eventually become ordinary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a GTI or a 250 GTO, if you drive it every day, it will eventually happen.
When I had this realisation, my initial reaction was to try and come up with a new plan for the GTI, and to evolve it even further; lighter, more powerful, more track focussed etc. but this would completely undo the original plan which the car was built to.
Plus, it would still be my daily and making it lighter, more powerful and more track focussed would guarantee that it would wear thin on the commute where it spends most of its time.
I tried then to find a new daily. Something which was cheap to purchase, cheap to run and cheap to insure that could take care of daily duties, and keep the GTI for the weekends and track days.
This was going well until it emerged that to insure a second car in Ireland, you have to start your no claims from scratch, as they won’t mirror or acknowledge your driving experience on your first policy for your new policy, so they can charge you through the absolute nose. Gangsters.
That was the end of that, then.
So, I waited and thought about it some more.
In the meantime, events and work were coming at me from all directions until I managed to find one weekend where I didn’t actually have to work. That weekend was during the Goodwood Festival of Speed, no less, which Jordan confidently covered on his own. Again.
With this rare weekend identified, I hatched a plan.
Outside of Speedhunters, I do the odd local press photography gig for car manufacturers here in Ireland. One of them is Volkswagen Group, who actually gave me my start in the industry many, many years ago by loaning me a Škoda Superb Combi to begin a portfolio. The man who gave me that opportunity was also called Paddy – but with the surname Comyn – who still works at VW Group Ireland today.
I owe a lot to him, mostly because I keep asking for things which other people would laugh at, but he has always said yes to for some reason. The biggest ask of all these was when I asked if ‘Kermit’ was available for a few days in July.
Again, for reasons still unbeknownst to anyone in the entire universe, he said yes. It’s worth pointing out that I did set one of his cars on fire before (it was totally fine) so you might understand my continued confusion on his reluctance to tell me to P.F.O.
So, that’s pretty much how I ended up the custodian of this 1978 Volkswagen Golf L, affectionately known as ‘Kermit’, for one whole weekend.
When new, its 1,100cc petrol engine produced 49hp, although I believe that some of those horses have long since been put out to pasture. It has four forward gears, three pedals, non-boosted brakes with no anti-lock and no power steering.
Essentially, what I’m trying to tell you is that this car is f*cking brilliant.
The matter of it not being designated a performance orientated model from factory is irrelevant. Any car is a performance car if you believe it to be one.
Never has 50mph been so terrifying.
Acceleration is a process which you are vaguely aware of, but whatever speed you do manage to accrue focuses your thoughts, as the brakes aren’t what anyone would consider fantastic. It teaches you patience and anticipation, while figuring out how much of the road you can use to help it around a corner.
Speed limits are irrelevant, because no matter how hard you try, you’re just not going to break them. Even the simple act of keeping up with more modern traffic becomes an adventure, requiring your full attention and maximum effort.
You must take every opportunity you can to carry whatever speed you might have, as any you lose will take an eternity to recover. Don’t lift, stay off the brakes, use all of the road available and be brave.
At no point over the weekend did I switch on the radio. Not because the engine sounds good (my girlfriend thought it sounded like a lawnmower) but because you need to give your whole attention to the experience.
Ordinary roads, which I regularly drive, had become extraordinary from behind the wheel of Kermit. I would find my heart racing and palms sweating after certain sections. If I was to try and drive my GTI on these roads with a similar amount of intensity I would end up dead or in a jail cell. That’s not an exaggeration, either.
Best of all, no one outside the car had any idea of the activity occurring inside to keep this momentum going. It’s guilt free driving.
It’s such a contrast to the modern approach of car building where they’re creating more and more safety systems which are seemingly designed to allow us to pay less attention to what we’re doing behind the wheel. Active cruise control, lane assist, collision warnings etc. all play some part in reducing a driver’s responsibility.
Of course there’s a time and place for everything, I just hope beyond all hope that when people are being shuttled around in their Level 5 pods, that Kermit is still out there reminding us how great we used to have it.
This wasn’t meant to be a story, but I suppose that some of my most memorable Speedhunters moments started out that way, too. It also happened to play its part in reminding me of another great aspect of car culture which I had forgotten about.
But more about that another day…Cutting Room Floor