Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Automatics And Blue Lights, Snails And Germans

I've been spending recent days driving in unusual cars. When I say unusual I mean unusual to me, not that they've got seven wheels or engines powered by string hoppers or something. Actually, if I did have a car that ran on string hoppers I'd never get out of my parking space at RD Towers anyway.

As I mentioned in another installment the Satnav on the RD chariot decided to go to the place where Satnavs go to die and required a new DVD drive in order to come back to life. I assume it already knew how to get to that place or it may have got lost as it wasn't working.

The car, after several shenanigans and several hundred spondulicks, was returned to me. I was pleased yet disappointed with the expense. I was pleased that it was fixed, pleased that my software had been upgraded, though the only major difference I could see was that the graphics were in a slightly brighter tone, and pleased that I had the car back with working satnav.

I was also pleased that I thought of and got to use the word "spondulicks" in a post, though that came later. I've never used it in writing before and may start to use it more.

Now I'm by no means a petrolhead yet I do like cars, it's probably accurate to say that my knowledge of them is slightly above average for a bloke. I know my BHP from my MPH, my torque from my talk and my cylinders from my cup holders. I like to drive with a bit of ooomph and speed but my idea of car maintenance is checking the oil level with the iDrive and putting water in the windscreen washer tank when it's needed.

I like cars, I know a bit about them, that's it really. For me they're more than a method of getting from A to B, or C even, if that's what takes your fancy.

So the RD chariot has a rather powerful 3.0 litre fuel injected straight six engine, one of those sporty interiors and of course a stereo that goes up to eleven. I like it and I use it.

Imagine my pissed offishness then when, thirty six hours after getting it back, it decides to laugh in my face. Again.

There I was, driving to work. I put my foot down as I came off this roundabout, in the place where I almost always do it. I got up to about 60 in second gear, as I always do. The rev counter was just about hitting the red line, as it always does. I went to change into third. Nothing happened, as it never does.

If I was one of the type who drive a really old car, maybe one as ancient as five years old, then I would have thought my clutch cable had snapped, that was how it felt. I'm knowledgeable enough to know that these beasts don't have clutch cables, it's all done by magic and German technology. Yes, I'm pretty advanced with the old mechanics and I knew immediately that something was seriously wrong with the hydronautics.

I cruised to a halt then managed to limp into work in second gear, then had that sick feeling as I watched the car dispatched on the back of a tow truck back to the dealership. I've had better mornings, if the truth is what you desire.

I was carless and annoyed but a phone call to the 'rents took care of the first part. Within a few hours I was driving back to my office in my Mum's VW Polo. It's got a 1.4 litre engine, an automatic gearbox and a cushion on the driver's seat. It's even got a cassette player, which kind of freaked me out a bit. It's four cars ago that I last had a cassette player.

But the relevant thing was that it was driveable, a fact that I was grateful for, something my expensive piece of German er technology wasn't. Frankly I'd rather be in a car with a cassette player that moved than be in one with a CD player that didn't.

A 1.4 litre engine isn't the most powerful thing in the world. It may be good for the environment, it may burn less fuel and run more economically than a camel in a water factory, but let's face it, it's hardly going to be Benjamin Button's or Jensen Interceptor's choice of engine in the next Grand Prix. On top of that this one is an automatic. Can you believe it?

I don't know about you but for the life of me I just can't get to grips with automatic gearboxes, though some would say, particularly after reading this post, that I struggle with manuals too. To be a passenger in an automatic car when driven by me must feel like travelling in a kangaroo. I can't get the hang of the braking and the accelerating, though I'm proficient on the steering side of things.

Every journey I went on was a series of leaping and bounding from one stoppage to the next. Each little touch on the brake pedal resulted in either a sharp emergency stop type stop, as if the driving examiner had just slammed his notepad on my dashboard, or nothing whatsoever, no slowing of the car and no decrease in revs. Which of course meant that I'd have to do an emergency stop in a couple of seconds' time anyhow.

Then pulling away from the stoppage invariably involved putting my foot flat to the floor and feeling as if the accelerator had stopped working, only to realise that there was some vague forward movement, just slower than nature had intended. I imagine that the engine compartment in these Polos contains a treadmill contraption that's actually powered by a team of geriatric snails, all of whom are on a hunger strike and going a bit slower than normal.

I got through things eventually. I must apologise if you were stuck behind me in the last few days. I bet it was frustrating for you and I can offer no excuses.

The silver lining?

These VW Polos, they've got blue lights on the dashboard. Each time I turned on the lights the whole fascia glowed with this very lovely shade of blue. It was most relaxing and eye catching.

Very groovy I must say.


David Blacker said...

A semi-auto or clutchless manual's probably the best option. I never really believed in proper old-fashioned manuals, though all my friends were/are convinced that they give you better performance. All that stuff about car-driver connection's just bollocks. Just look at the new super cars. My FTO's got Tiptronic and I'm definitely a convert. I don't think I'll ever want a manual, but not sure I'd want a full auto again either.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

DB - Some years ago I considered getting a tip/steptronic car but decided against it until the manufacturers got to a situation where these gearboxes could supply performance equal or better than a manual. I believe that they're there now and will probably look seriously at one on my next car.

I do think that there is a connection to the road through the gear lever but am yet to drive a tiptronic in anger. I've chucked my Dad's A6 around a little bit, that has a steptronic thing, but perhaps is about 6 or 7 years old and doesn't feel anything more than an automatic that lets you choose when to change gear.

David Blacker said...

Well my FTO's nine years old, but while I'm happy with the performance, the Tip's a licence-made version of the Porsche Tip box, so I guess it's a better than most of the old-school semi-autos. Of course Porsche's new DPK's streets ahead, as are most new clutchless manuals.

Holy Highness Zoltan said...

Only someone with authentic talent like yours could possibly spin one inconsequential story after another. No wonder Kottu cant get enough of your exciting adventures!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

DB - Yes, it must be more racey thatn the normal road ones of that age with that pedigree. Do you get much chance to really put your foot down in Lanka?

HHZ - Thank you for the compliment.

David Blacker said...

Well, yeah occasionally. I've touched 120kmph late at night in Colombo, but just for a second or two. Touched 130kmph coming back from Unawatuna a couple weekends ago too. There are no speed-gun-toting cops anymore, but unfortunately there are still cows, dogs, buses and stupid buggers on bicycles and mopeds to deal with, so no, not too much chances of it. If I had any complaints, I'd say it's just not torquey enough.