Long Distance Prawns

Nipped out to buy some prawns today. Shop was closed, Bah! Drove home. End of story … not quite.

The prawn shop in question is a stall on the harbour at Oban, which sells them fresh from the sea, delicious. It is 120 miles away across the lower highlands of Scotland, on some of the best driver’s roads in Britain. It is a Monday in February, so the roads are deserted. It is raining heavily, so all the winter salt has been washed away, and the tar is wet, but as clean as a whistle. And the car in question is my 1986 Porsche 924S, which I have just spent the last few weeks bringing back to original driving condition by renewing the shock absorbers, tyres, brakes and more.

On the face of it, what could be more pointless, a 240 mile round trip in the rain to a closed shop, yet I have had a fantastic day. The opportunities to really drive in the UK get scarcer with every day that Tony Blair gets older, and this has been one to savour. I can recall half a dozen stretches of 5, maybe 7 miles at a time when I scarcely saw another car, and nothing balked me. Short of track time, that is close to unheard of these days. Just me, the car, the road and the hills. A joy to be alive.

With 150bhp in a heavy body, the 924S is not a fast car by today’s standards, and on modest 205 tyres it does not have a huge amount of grip either. Cars have made massive progress since this was new, and your average mid-range Audi saloon would probably be faster, safer and easier to drive in these conditions, so why do I rate this as one of the best drives I can remember?

Unlike today’s efficient soulless tin boxes, the 924 actually requires you to drive it. Concentrate on what the steering is telling you about the road below, feel carefully as to what the tyres are doing at each end, drive with the seat of your pants and the tips of your fingers. No catalysts, no traction control, no airbags, no anti-lock brakes; nothing to get between you and the drive.

The run there was great, but it was the run home that was truly memorable. After a slug of coffee from my travelling flask, and a few photos on the shore of Loch Etive at Taynuilt, I headed home. Four stretches in particular are etched in my memory, if you know the roads you will know why. If you don’t, memorise them and plan your pilgrimage now.

First is the run up Strone Hill from Dalmally, and along Glen Lochy to Tyndrum, a fabulous open snaking road where you can see for miles. A magnet for fast bikes and fast police patrol cars in the summer, but today I only pass two cars, otherwise it is all mine. A careful jaunt past the tour busses (even in February!) at Tyndrum, and then it is a swift run down the hill to Crianlarich. Ahead of me is the fastest and best driven vehicle I am to encounter all day. Our speed builds until we reach the fast open downhill section and I pass him … damn but these Mercedes Sprinter vans are obscenely quick for something the size of a small bungalow, and this guy can drive. It seems to take a long time for him to shrink in my mirror.

My third great section is through Glen Dochart, blissfully free of traffic, and tight twisty bits are interspersed with long open stretches. I slow and breath deeply as I pass the bunches of flowers at the roadside though where a young lady lost control of her Ducati two summers back, and paid the ultimate price. This fast driving lark may be fun, but it has its black side. As a biker too, I never forget it, and these roadside shrines are a poignant reminder.

And lastly I am rewarded with a free run along the length of Loch Earn from Lochearnhead to St Fillans. What a treat this is, as this road is perennially awash with grockles, caravans and oiks towing jet-skis. Not today though, and I am left alone to enjoy the balance and handling of my vintage Porsche. I stop at St Fillans to use the gents, and mentally change down a gear for the run home. I have had my fill now, and am happy to tone it down and drive modestly home through Comrie, Crieff and onto Perth. From there it is a hop and a jump on well travelled roads to home.

Read the motoring magazines and they would have you believe that the only way to enjoy driving is to have the latest and most expensive tackle. Listen to the die-hard Porsche fanatics and they love to sneer at anything without 6 air-cooled cylinders. Not so I say. This old Porsche cost me less than most people probably lose every year in depreciation on their humdrum family saloon. Granted I have spent some money, and a lot of my time on fettling it, but it is all part of the enjoyment. You may drive like Colin McRae, but I suggest you don’t really bond with a car until you have set about it in earnest with a bag of spanners.

So, is this just a stupid waste of petrol, deliberately flouting the road safety laws that Tony and his cronies know are good for us? Or is it an increasingly rare opportunity to sample a fine old car, on some glorious roads, doing no harm to man nor beast? I guess you have to decide yourself, but at least no prawns died or were injured in the telling of this tale. I had to use the frozen ones I had in the freezer after all, but our seafood pasta would have been better if that damned stall on Oban pier had been open.

Perhaps I’ll go back.