I want to drive. Right now, tomorrow, whenever…
I just want to see the road rise before me, and the scenery to blast past as quickly as I decide. I want to spend an evening scouring maps and diligently picking a route, peppered with familiar favourite stretches of tarmac. I want to press that thin metal key into the door barrel and feel the clicking of the lock, knowing that I have unlocked the most personal of freedom. I want to prime the ignition, take in the short whirr of the fuel pump before going for the start. I want to listen for that first cold note to emerge from the exhaust, and savour every glorious blip after blip of a lumpy idle. I want to arrange to meet friends and wait patiently for their arrival. I want to savour the chit-chat, joking and excitement. I want to get on the road, maintain a close convoy and mentally deal with the anguish of thinking where the lead car will bring us. I want to make the fuel stop, the breakfast halt or savour some roadside coffee. I want to stand silently and admire my car, forgetting its flaws and remembering why it makes me happy. I want to think about driving, both the escape and the freedom it allows.
But I can’t do any of these things, because right now it’s imperative to stay at home.
The world is in a state of lockdown as we attempt to battle the Covid-19 pandemic. Here in Ireland, like in many parts of the world, the stay-at-home order has been in effect for several weeks, and is quite likely to continue for a while yet. I know a lot of you are watching your cars sit in driveways, garages or car parks right now, and I’m right there with you.The Last Drive
Of course, it wasn’t always like this. A few months back I took advantage of a free Saturday in my calendar – oh the novelty looking back now – and took off. Typically, being Ireland, the rain never stopped, but it did make me fall back in love with my humble Peugeot 106 Rallye.
My escape is 90 minutes away from home, high among the mountains and right bang in the middle of a coastal peninsula. The Healy Pass is a wonderous stretch of tarmac and soft edges. Travel with friends, drive hard and leave with a smile. Travel alone, drive hard and also leave with a smile.
The approach road is stunning, rising up along a mountainous ridge almost towards the horizon. The road is narrow, barely more than single vehicle width, but the surface impeccable, each metre opening a greater vista to one side as the mountains part, exposing, on a good day, a view to rival anywhere in the world. Not that it can be taken in for long, as a keen eye is needed to watch for oncoming traffic, or more importantly sheep, who are the true locals around here.
Closer to the top, the sharper bends bear all the hallmarks of a racing surface, littered with rubber lines. The Rally of The Lakes passes through here most years. I hope to experience it as a closed road one day, but for now I’m fine with early morning blasts.
Over the top, it feels almost impulsive to stop. Below, as far as the eye can see, the road twists and winds through the valley, switchback after switchback carved across the expansive terrain. Left to right, the view is merely mountain, to road, and back to mountain. As a tourist, this must be manner from heaven, but to me it’s more. This is a playground.
The first 500m section is terrifying: lightning quick, downhill and a very fast left. It’s short-lived as the next sequence of bends approach. Left, right and left again. Up and down those two gears, the speedo barely passes 30mph, but it’s intense.
My 106 Rallye is a recent purchase and one finally on the road after a significant amount of work over the winter. For weeks and months, watching it on the driveway or doing the short spin to and from the mechanic, I struggled to remember the point of ownership, but the Healy Pass was almost like the spark being ignited once more. Non-assisted steering in a car weighing so little, the directional changes are sublime. Corner after corner are gobbled up, leaving the delicate French nugget unfazed in the slightest.
The petite pedal box, hilariously misplaced for us right-hand drive heathens being much closer to the centre console than the door, is a cracker. Tiny pedals that dance and seem to bring my feet alive. Down through a right-hand hairpin, I feel like I’m carrying a bit too much speed, but the chassis holds firm. I feel like Gilles Panizzi in my head, while driving down a misty and wet mountain road in an ancient hatchback at about 35mph. It’s hilariously out of perspective within, the rampant fuel smells and roar of a screaming 1,300cc competition engine making the experience seem a lot more surreal than it really is.
I want to drive. Right now, tomorrow, whenever. I just want to see the road rise before me, and the scenery to blast past as quickly as I decide. But I’ll wait until I can. For now, essential journeys to the shops and multiple cleans will have to do instead. I should also really use the time to paint the bumper vents that many will spot are missing, but I am absolutely useless at the art of actually making things look nice, so I’m waiting to have a professional sort those.