I’ve been a motoring journalist for over 30 years and particularly in the early years I made some amazing journeys in fast cars. One was a trip from Maranello to home in the then new Ferrari 456GT. There were no cameras then and the French gendarmes drove Renault 4s. For much of the journey I was cruising at well over 100mph. I wouldn’t do that now in France and certainly not in the UK. Getting a big fine and a bundle of points is a serious nuisance but getting a prison sentence for speeding is very inconvenient and quite difficult to explain to my wife.
In fact, I’m done with supercars. They’re too big, too heavy and too powerful. I mean, what’s the point in owning a McLaren 720S that has over 700bhp and that can do over 200mph, if it barely fits on its side of a nice stretch of road and you wince every time another vehicle comes towards you, hoping not to smash wing mirrors or catch the wheels and tyres on a flint stone in the verge? Sure, the 720S is a brilliantly executed machine and probably the best of its kind. But we all know that getting any satisfaction from these sorts of cars on the public road is as frustrating as walking past your favourite pub during lockdown, looking wistfully at its empty garden and wondering when you’ll get to sit there on a summer’s day, pint in hand, friends around you and conversation flowing.
You don’t need to feel sorry for me, though. I’ve found something much better: I’ve got an aeroplane. Actually, I built it from a kit in my garden shed – a bit like a Caterham but a lot more complicated and time consuming. I once built a Seven over a long weekend but the plane took five years.
At this point you’re probably thinking, ‘What sort of old nail can it be if it was made in a shed?’ It’s a nail that can cruise at 180mph and carry two people and their luggage from London to Cannes in the south of France in just over three hours. Non-stop. Le Mans? A doddle. In 2018, I flew there from my home airfield near Maidenhead in an hour and a half; parked the plane and walked to the circuit.
I learned to fly 15 years ago. I’d been racing motorbikes for a few years and had achieved all that I could have done. Some nice trophies and only at the cost of a few broken bones. I quit while I was ahead, flogged the bike and used the money for flying lessons.
I knew I’d love it. My father flew during the war and since he never drove a car in his life, I grew up around flying stories. I had to pass seven exams to get my licence across subjects such as meteorology, navigation, air law, technical and human factors. It shows what you can achieve if you’re revved up enough as I have a total of four O-levels but scored over 90 per cent in all my flying exams.
I love the freedom that flying gives you. There’s no speed limit. Actually there is, but it’s 250 knots (that’s 285mph) if you’re below 10,000ft and even then you can get an exemption. My aeroplane – it’s called a Vans RV-7 and is the most popular make of kit plane in the world – can do aerobatics so that if the mood takes you can do a loop or a roll. It’s the equivalent of being able to drift a car on the public road legally.
There’s also the sense of adventure, too. Flying light aircraft is not without risk and it’s very easy to kill yourself and your passengers. It’s all about decision making; whether the weather is good enough, if you have enough fuel if there’s a head wind and all sorts of other factors. A couple of years ago I fancied going to a classic car event in Malta so I flew there with a mate. It cost much more in time and money than going by EasyJet but the satisfaction in getting there and back safely was enormous. We stopped the night in Cannes, Sicily and then hopped across to Malta.
My aeroplane is worth about the same as a new Porsche 911 and costs about the same to run but you can fly far more cheaply than that, especially if you share an aeroplane and running costs with others. Whatever, it’s cheaper than owning a supercar. And more rewarding.
Do you agree with Colin Goodwin? Have supercars become super-pointless? Or are they still the ultimate expression of engineering? Add your view, below.