Recently I asked for article suggestions and the one that got me thinking immediately was “what have been the hairiest moments in your cars”. Thinking back, over the years there have been a few. Some have been immediate terror, others a slow torturous burn, and a couple have involved the “law”. The good news is none of the situations ever ended up with bent metal or shattered carbon fiber with the only damage perhaps being the need for clean pair of underwear. Of all the cars we have owned over the years, the F40 has the longest years of ownership so it’s probably not surprising that a few of the “moments” do involve the F40.
There are two situations that immediately come to mind when thinking of the F40. The first of which happened when I had owned the car for a bit over a year and was driving back from Maranello to Madrid. I was on the A21 south of Milan when it started to sprinkle. I was closely abiding to the speed limit for F40s in Italy. At the last petrol stop, I had met a kind member of the Carabinieri who informed me of the speed limit by stating “you just go, I want to hear the car and I will tell my friends you are coming; they will not bother you”. Seeing the water on the windshield, I immediately lifted off and, in a few minutes, we were back down to around 140 kph. The decision to back off was incredibly fortunate as at that point, the skies completely opened up and the rain came down in sheets. Effective is not the first term that comes to mind when describing the F40s windshield wipers, and visibility dropped dramatically. At that point the F40 hit a large pool of standing water and I became a passenger. We skimmed along for what felt like an eternity (it probably was 5 seconds) before I could feel rubber reattaching itself to pavement. I was very fortunate that the road was dead straight in that section, we were pointed dead straight when we hit the water, there was no traffic around us, and we were coasting.
The second was driving up the Furka Pass in Switzerland. The road is quite narrow in places, guard rails are nonexistent, and the drop offs are quite intimidating, especially if you have an irrational fear of heights. On one of these narrow straights, having just come around the hairpin corner and sitting in the outside lane with not much below me for quite a while, I faced a large tourist bus coming in the opposite direction. At this point, I decided to stop, figuring that would give him confidence to pull close to the rock wall and slowly roll by me. It didn’t quite happen that way. He pulled right up next to me and decided to stop and take a look at the F40. So now we are both stopped, I’m pretty sure at least a 1/3rd. of the right rear tire is hanging off the edge of the road and I can see traffic starting to build up behind me. Despite my waving frantically at him to get moving, he wouldn’t budge so now I had to do exactly what I was hoping to avoid and get the F40 moving again on a steep incline with a giant bus sitting 3 inches away from me on one side and a cliff on the other. Heavy and unforgiving are a good summary of the F40’s clutch. I definitely left a bit of clutch plate on the Furka that day. Lesson learned about stopping.
Unlike the two incidences with the F40, which were over quickly, the 512BB’s moment lasted two days. My eldest son, who was around 10 years old at the time, and I were driving the 512BB from Lisbon to London. The weather was fairly warm, and we hit bad traffic on the outskirts of San Sebastian. Limping through traffic part of the fuse panel melted and took the radiator fans out. We discovered this when the 512BB started to overheat when we hit another accident caused traffic jam on the A63 south of Bordeaux. We pulled off the road, opened up both the front and rear clamshell and let the car cool for half an hour. I decided to check the fuses and discovered the melted blob that had been the left side of the panel at that point. Once the car had cooled and traffic cleared, we headed back out and were able to make it to our hotel that evening without any further issues. On the drive up we learned that as long as we were moving at 40 mph or higher and pushing plenty of air into the radiator, the temperature gauge stayed where it should be. Below 30 mph, the orange needle started moving towards the disaster zone. We drove a further 400 miles the following day to catch our ferry in Caen. I don’t think I have ever been as excited for a grey cold day and rain. The entire drive was spent with one eye on the temperature gauge and the other watching out for traffic. Navigating the ring road around Nantes was a high stress few minutes. We did pull over a few times when things started to get a bit hot but did make our ferry with a few minutes to spare.
McLaren 675LT Spider
My youngest son, aka Bad Driver, and I were driving the 675LT Spider from Texas to Montana when we got caught in a hailstorm on RT 87 in northeast New Mexico. The road was one lane in either direction and we were a long way from any towns when the storm blew in. You could see it coming as it was a black band of clouds were coming straight at us. With nowhere to safely pull over as the shoulder dropped right off into the woods, we had to keep doing. Fortunately, the hail balls were tiny and did no damage but the noise as they hit the car was deafening. Visibility was near zero in places and I was very concerned with getting hit by an oncoming truck. This was one time where being in a bright orange car was definitely beneficial.
The incident in the Mosler MT900S was another rain facilitated event. It happened on a charity track day for Wounded Warriors at Brands Hatch. I was heading down the fast Brabham straight to the Paddock Hill Corner. It was raining quite hard and you could see small streams of water running across the track. I got the car slowed down nicely for the corner, turned in and had the car rotate a full 180 degrees as we now headed down the hill, backwards. Nothing quite like looking straight at the driver in the car behind you. The Mosler slid into the gravel trap at the bottom of the hill and we did need to get towed back out.
Porsche 911 (993) Turbo
The one highly memorable incident we had in the 911 Turbo involved the Guardia Civil in Spain. We got pulled over on the A5 driving back to Madrid from Portugal. I know I wasn’t speeding because we had slowed down a few miles before as I knew that was the one place, they always had a speed trap set up. I’m pretty sure my main crime was driving a white Porsche 911 Turbo with British plates. When the officer came over, I handed him the British Registration, British Insurance, an International Driver’s License and a US Driver’s license. He took all those documents and then disappeared back to his car for about 15 minutes. He then came back to the car and demanded my passport. Another 15 minutes passed, and he comes back and tosses my passport, International Driver’s License, & US Driver’s License at me and says, “not valid in Spain”. At this point I then hand him my German driver’s license and a Portuguese residency card. He disappears for another 10 minutes before coming back with all the documents, and basically throws them all at me through the window. He then points at Karen and yells at her to get her feet off the dashboard which were up as the air-conditioner had quit and it was very hot. The officer then stomps off back to his car and then takes off with the siren going. We waited a few minutes for the police car to disappear down the road and then got back on the highway.
Ferrari 365 GT4/BB
Shortly after I acquired the 365BB, we were out for a Sunday drive in the UK and headed west on the M4. Without warning, suddenly there is this horrendous stench coming from the rear of the car followed shortly thereafter by trails of black smoke. Not wanting to become a charcoal bricket, I immediately pulled over, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and we both jumped out of the car. Weirdly as soon as we were stopped, the smoke coming from the back of the car dissipated. The stench however remained. After waiting a few minutes to make sure nothing was on fire, I opened the rear clamshell. Turned out the air-conditioner drive belt had broken and wrapped itself around the gear drive shaft. The still spinning drive shaft had melted the belt and created quite the gooey rubber mess. After letting it all cool for a bit, I pulled as much of the grim remains of the belt out as I could. I was able to get most of it out but not all so the drive back was still a lot more pungent than it needed to be.
I have had two other fire scares in Ferraris. The first was in a F355 GTS when a fuel line that sprung a leak. I was very fortunate to smell the leaking petrol and pulled over before it ignited. The second was in the 512BB when one of the fuel lines detached itself from the Weber Carburetor to which it was assigned. I had just started the car up and was still in the garage with the driver’s side door open when I smelled the leak. Again, I was very fortunate to get the car turned off before the rear of the car decided to flambe itself.
Owning a TVR Griffith is an adventure in patience. While the old Rover sourced V8 in the nose maybe close to bullet proof, the rest of the car is a treasure chest full of components all waiting patiently to go wrong. Needless to say, we were not together long. The one incident I still vividly remember with the Griffith happened on the M25 in near Heathrow airport. I was driving back from looking at the Ferrari 365BB mention above when it started raining. As the rain increased, I increased the speed of the windshield wipers. This was not a wise idea as moments later, both wipers launched themselves towards the heavens. At about this time the windshield also decided to fog up as the ventilator fan decided it had done enough work for one day. To clear the fog off windshield and restore any semblance of visibility going down the highway, I had to roll down the windows. With the windows down, water now started pooling in the footwells. As the engineers at TVR had decided that the most logical place to mount the battery and fuse box was in the lowest part of the car, the passenger footwell, it was now a race to get back to the garage before the electronics started shorting out. I made it, but not by much.
If there is a common thread among the moments, several have involved rain and a lot of it with little warning. There have been a few other moments that I haven’t mentioned. These mostly involved either animals deciding to cross the road without looking or other driver’s behaving badly. There is a crow that is no longer with us as he misjudged the speed at which the Ferrari 456GT was bearing down on him and decided to have one last bite of roadkill. I also punted a suicidal rabbit into the woods with the McLaren 650S Spider after he timed his dash across the road poorly. Overall, though, the few moments of terror or high stress are tiny in comparison to the amount of joy we have had with all of the supercars we have been fortunately enough to own over the years.
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