when road tests go wrong
crashing the party
Motoring journalists may seem to have the dream job, but there are days when they wish the earth would swallow them up. Andy Enright's been there.
I look back at the video now with a combination of mortification and curiosity. I'm at the wheel of a Nissan Skyline GT-R, its 1997 and I'm on my very first journalistic assignment. It's dark, I'm driving down a hilly road outside Aberystwyth when out of the mist emerges a right chevron sign. I yank the wheel hard right, another chevron sign appears, there's the howling of tyres and then a sickening crump from the back of the car as it clips the Armco barrier. Brief silence. All that's heard afterwards is the Five Live commentary of Manchester United versus Juventus. "And Beckham takes it on the chest
It's an ongoing inevitability that being paid to test cars to their limits will result in the occasional tragedy. In a bid to ensure favourable press for their new vehicles, manufacturers will launch new cars in exotic destinations. This results in an unfamiliar car being driven on foreign roads by travel worn journalists keen to push the capabilities of both the car and themselves before plying themselves with free drink. Whilst it may seem a dream job to many, one error of judgement can often mean a P45 or worse.
The launches of sports models are usually the worst. The 'enthusiast' motoring press will be there in force, largely frustrated racing drivers sporting Nomex underpants ready to punt the new offering for a few laps around a racetrack. At a track launch for the Renault Clio V6 at Pont L'Eveque in France, journalists from Autocar and Evo, clad in said apparel, could be seen discussing how far they'd got the tail out. Arms sawing in mock wheel fight, they stuck their bottoms out to signify lurid oversteer, whilst making barking double-declutch noises. The French track marshals gazed on in blank puzzlement. One journalist fell over whilst effecting a slick heel and toe gearchange. Out on the track, the reality was that the little Clios were spinning off the track in all directions. Car magazine's correspondent never made it beyond the first corner before beaching the little Renault on a grassy knoll.
One veteran racer and Telegraph correspondent knows how to crash with genuine style. While Damon Hill will attest to this hack's talents behind the wheel after being shown a clean pair of exhausts at the Goodwood Revival meeting, stories of his escapades are legion. Travelling at a fair clip at night along a country lane in a Volkswagen Golf, he suddenly realised that the T-junction with a main road he'd estimated to be a mile away was looming quickly at him. Realising there was no chance of stopping in time, a certain genius stroke of logic took over. Rather than expose himself to danger for any longer than was necessary by staying in the way of traffic, he buried the throttle, flew across the main road, wrecked a fence, and ended up in a turnip field. He has since graduated to crashing aircraft.
It's possible to detect the palpably dreaded deflation from a motoring manufacturer's press officer when you open with the line, "You know that car I've got on test.?" but any attempt to try the patience of a press office has to be measured against the benchmark set by Autocar. On the launch of the Maserati Coupe, their European editor managed to park one neatly on its roof after a cornering shot got slightly out of hand. Nonplussed, the Ferrari/Maserati press office subsequently invited the Road Test Editor to drive the 360 Modena. Unbeknown to them, and against their expressed wishes, another staffer had arrived in a Porsche Carrera to see how the new car would stack up against it. And stack up it did. As the Ferrari hesitated at a T-junction, the overly keen staffer, keen to keep up, rear-ended it with the 911.
Whilst most would agree that there's a horrible sacrilege in damaging a Ferrari or a Porsche, it's definitely something to regale the grandkids with. There are corners named at airfields after certain journalist's indiscretions and one hapless journo has even lent his name to the act of a binning a press car. Possibly the most shameful admission came from one character who confessed to doing all his heroic oversteer cornering shots while stationary, jacking the car up on one side to give it an element of body roll and letting the art director's Photoshop package do the rest.
While most motoring journalists have more talent than the average driver, they often have considerably less than they think they possess; an ability dysomorphic syndrome if you will. They are also statistically more likely to crash, but like to keep these indiscretions secret. Next time you see those wild cornering shots in car magazines, bear in mind that a). they usually take about twenty passes to attain and b). many a promising journalistic career has crumpled in an embarrassingly expensively wreck. Me? I 'm almost fully rehabilitated