Sometime last year I wondered aloud whether spending several hundred thousand pounds on a supercar was actually worth it. It was a genuine question - apart from watching Top Gear, my only frame of reference is I once hired an Audi A5 to drive to a wedding.
So, probably worth giving it a try to see?
One very thoughtful Christmas present later and eight months afterwards I found myself on an airfield somewhere near Abingdon on a bright but cloudy Friday, jockeying for position with a large number of people who I presumed knew far more about cars than I did. In the distance loud noises could be heard as a selection of exciting looking cars did laps around a track, beyond a row of other cars parked waiting for use.
I was driven out on a 'sighting lap' to get a feel for the circuit and then it was off in my first choice of car.
1982 Pontiac Trans Am
Obviously I didn't choose the Trans Am to get a feel for how a supercar drives. I chose it because I wanted to drive the car from Knight Rider. Honestly, if I could own any car in the world, a replica KITT would be pretty high up the list.
I wasn't expecting to be driving the actual car from the TV series but it was still a little disappointing to climb in and find that it definitely wasn't. My second impression was that the car is surprisingly small; it's incredibly low to the ground and the legroom in the back is ridiculous. Why they bothered making it a four-seater escapes me.
But all of that became unimportant when I put my foot on the accelerator. It's important to remember that this is a car from more than thirty years ago, built before modern driving aids like power steering and traction control. It was raw, it was loud, and I could feel everything through the steering wheel.
I only had three laps and I spent most of them trying to get familiar with the circuit and being overtaken, until my final lap. A car ahead of me was going even slower so my instructor told me to overtake. As there was a corner fast approaching, I put my foot right to the floor. The Pontiac roared past the other car and I had to brake quite sharply to make the corner. It's likely I wasn't doing more than seventy but it felt exhilarating.
I didn't enjoy any of the new Transformers films so my motivation for driving the ZL1 was purely that it was probably super powerful. I also figured that it was relatively new, so I might get to experience the luxury interior that presumably comes with the hefty price tag of a supercar.
Oddly the inside wasn't as comfortable and impressive as I was expecting, although the low roof and chunky styling made it feel a bit like I was inside a Batmobile. There was a speedo reflected onto the windscreen, which was a little futuristic, but that was about it.
The Camaro was definitely more powerful than the Pontiac, but I'm not sure I enjoyed driving it more. That might have been because my instructor didn't let me change out of fourth the whole way round, or it might have been that apart from the obvious power difference it didn't feel that different from driving a regular modern car. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I figured for an extra few hundred thousand pounds there might be something.
I did manage an exciting moment coming out of a corner when I got a brief moment of good tyre squeal. But I think it says something about the car that three days later that's the most interesting thing I can remember about it.
I wanted to drive the GT40 because it's a bit of a legend, but unfortunately it broke down for the bloke who was before me in the queue, so this was the closest I got to it. Shame really.
Aston Martin... something
Lacking the GT40, I was given my pick of the other cars for my final drive of the day. Having already driven two American cars I decided to opt for something else, in the form of this Aston Martin. They told me what it was several times, but I simply can't remember what it is. If you're reading this, thinking that it's obviously a [insert car name here] then congratulations, you know more about cars than I do.
The Aston Martin, like the Pontiac, was very low to the ground. It also featured bucket seats, an invention that feels like you're being eaten by a chair. The door handle was so fancy and unusual that I had to be shown how to open it. Finally, something approaching a supercar?
I'd assumed that since the Aston was small it would be light and nimble, but it turned out to be surprisingly heavy to handle. I was told that was by design, and actually that started to make sense the more I drove it. It went where you pointed it. At no point did I feel like I was losing control.
Since I'd missed out on my choice of car I was given an extra lap in the Aston and it gave me a little more time to become comfortable behind the wheel. I really enjoyed driving this one. It was extremely powerful and felt sturdy on the road. It was also pretty nice inside.
So is a supercar worth it?
Obviously my experience of driving supercars, while improved since last week, is far from expansive. Despite this, while they are no doubt extremely powerful and impressively engineered, I'm not sure it's worth the cost of a small house to be a supercar owner. Sure, if I was super rich, I'd probably drive a more expensive car, but having experienced it first hand, I don't feel the need to become a millionaire just to own one.
Having said that, I'd definitely do another track day like this one again sometime. And yes, I'd probably drive the Trans Am again. Why not?