Retrospective

Memories are made of these…

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Some might say that motoring journalists have lived something of a high life over the years. Never was it higher than when I gazed out of a window at 60,000 feet above the earth’s surface, with enough height to see the curvature of the earth, while travelling at a speed of Mach 2, which equates to a hugely impressive 1,330mph.

This was on a plane trip from London to Munich, by a very unusual route. We exited the UK towards the west, travelling out to mid-Atlantic before performing a U-turn to head back towards our destination in Germany. The reason for this was to allow our plane to go supersonic, which was forbidden above land and only permissible over water. Yes, we were on Concorde!

It made for a particularly memorable launch of the MkII Volkswagen Golf for those of us lucky enough to be on the invitation list. It was not only a first for motoring writers, it was also a first for Germany. Concorde had never landed there before our trip. So when we came in to land at Munich, we found crowds surrounding the airport for a glimpse of the famous plane, and an oompah band waiting beside the runway to greet our disembarkation.

Concorde’s cabin was mildly disappointing, somewhat cramped for such an iconic flying superstar. But there was nothing disappointing about the plane’s performance, with a large gauge at the front of the cabin to tell us when we had reached the sizzling pace of Mach 2. We journos were all immensely proud of the posh Concorde tags we were given for our luggage. Alas, I only owned mine for a week, before it disappeared from my suitcase, annoyingly stolen by some irksome souvenir hunter.

There is a natural synergy between forms of transport that has encouraged other aviation-related launches over the years. A memorable Mazda event involved a drive to an aerobatics championship, and exciting passenger trips in a light aircraft performing loop-the-loops and other dramatic manoeuvres. I recall being upside down, gazing apparently upwards at the ground from our inverted flight, when the pilot suddenly flipped the plane over saying there was something we needed to see. It was the arrival of the fabulous delta wing Vulcan jet on one of its last flights, and we memorably watched its arrival from our airborne location.

Another more extraordinary experience involved a 747 jumbo jet. This one was on the ground, and in the UK at Kemble airport. Bizarrely, we motoring hacks on the Land Rover launch were invited to drive through it. Not just drive, though, but go off-roading – over ramps and other obstacles installed inside the fuselage. The occasion was the launch of the second-generation Range Rover Sport, and its makers wanted a big wow factor to distinguish the car’s press launch. So they had stripped out the interior of a decommissioned and parked jumbo, and built an internal assault course of ramps, side elevations and other rugged obstacles to demonstrate the new model’s prowess over difficult terrain. Our ‘off-road’ drive began with a steep climb up one ramp to access the cabin and ended with a downward plunge on another ramp to exit from the nose. Wow!

Seared in memory, too, is another unconventional Land Rover event, for the original arrival of the Evoque. Being patriotic, they staged it in the UK, in trendy Liverpool. Off-roading is always a key feature of all Land Rover launches, as befits their vehicles’ famed prowess in that department. So where, in a distinctly urban environment, can you go ruggedly mud-plugging? In a long since disused Victorian rail tunnel. Spooky! The two-day event finished by us driving through Liverpool’s Albert Dock, home to the television programme This Morning for so long.

Land Rover has always liked making a drama out of all its car launches. On another notable occasion, the test route for a Range Rover drive included a disused airfield runway up in the Scottish borders, where we were invited to explore the car’s speed potential in safety away from public roads. Doing a ton in a two-tonne car on a concrete strip long enough for a plane to take off is somewhat irrelevant to real life driving, but oh so much fun. It’s memorable, too!

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