Part 3 of Breaking for the Border – Great Escape Road Trip has finally landed, bringing to an end our video diary of the driving experience we had that day back in March with Great Escape Cars. In our final video we tackle Stages 4 and 5 as we make our way across the Welsh Borders, through Shropshire and back to Great Escape Cars HQ in Redditch.
The final stages weren’t without incident and added to a sense of “what’s gonna happen now”. When we handed over the tired little Fiat 500 at the end of Stage 3 outside the village of Sarn, we knew our late arrival reduced our chance of picking the next car for Stage 4. So it was a real deja vu moment when we spotted the MGB Roadster from Stage 2 waiting for us.
To be honest we were a little relieved to be climbing into a car that we already knew. The Fiat 500 had been a fun and entertaining drive, but its lack of power put it at a severe disadvantage in the Welsh hills. And added to that the noise from the tiny little engine as it screamed up the steep inclines had started to give us a little bit of a headache.
The MGB therefore felt rather refreshing as we got behind the wheel, its crisp handling and eager engine making up for the Fiat’s slightly wandering steering and vague brakes. Conscious of the fact we were well behind schedule we pressed on through the small town of Clun, crossing the border back in England and the county of Shropshire.
Despite making good brisk progress on Stage 4, we found we were the last to arrive at the final stop point, Stage 5 just outside Titterstone. Waiting for us was the AK427 Cobra kitcar, which at first didn’t deter us. With time ticking we jumped out of the MGB and threw our gear into the our second convertible for the day. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to take in the wonderful views that Clee Hill afforded across the countryside below, so onward we pressed in the last car of the day.
And it was from that moment that we felt we were jinxed. The AK427 Cobra’s Chevrolet 5.7ltr V8 sounded epic and was actually more like a heavy caliber machine gun going off. Rather appropriate then for the kitcar’s name to take inspiration from the infamous AK47 assault rifle. It felt very satisfying burying the throttle, the noise creating just a bit of an adrenaline rush. However by the end of the trip, the replica Cobra had managed to break us.
During the briefing at the start of the day, Great Escape Cars owner Graham Eason had warned everyone gathered that the Cobra was unlike any “production” car we have driven before. And after spending just five minutes in the open top homage to the legendary AC Cobra really drove home that fact. First of all there was the seating position. For us it just did not work. The bucket seats were incredibly narrow which meant we were sitting on its hard plastic edges rather than comfy foam. Second there was the steering wheel which, while very small, was set at an uncomfortable angle. Like Italian cars of old, everything felt like it was aligned to the right. Admittedly it was kinda cool to be cruising along with my arm resting over the edge of the door. But the acres of space around the transmission tunnel made no sense. To put it simply, the Cobra interior was cramped. Very cramped. Richard couldn’t pull the seat forward far enough and I couldn’t move the seat back far enough… there was no happy medium with the seating position.
The engine itself felt very powerful with bags of torque. It was actually easier to just leave it in 3rd gear when blasting up the hills. It had so much grunt there was simply no need to change down. But part of the reason for the reluctance to change gears was the ridiculously heavy clutch and the very vague gear ratios of the five speed manual gearbox. Finding gears was a challenge which only made the whole driving experience even harder.
As the V8 blasted along, Richard realised we were missing pages in our route book. Oh dear! The directions had thrown us off yet again. So we followed the signs for Redditch which took us directly into Kidderminster, which in hindsight was not the best idea. It was there that another problem raised its head, the handbrake. When we swapped seats we found we couldn’t figure out the handbrake. The Great Escape Team had told us to put our foot on the brake, pulled the lever up while pressing in the button, wait for the tension to release. Sounds simple. Nope… no matter what we did we couldn’t get it to work. Reluctantly we called the support crew who were actually just down the road waiting for us (with the Fiat 500 resting on the back of the trailer). As with many things in life experience counts for a lot of things and they quickly sorted the handbrake, sending us on our way.
Driving a heavy manual V8 through rush hour traffic is not always a good idea but we had little choice as we had no clue where we were going. Richard struggled to reach the clutch which made it even harder to get the car into gear. Needless to say we were both exhausted when we made it back to Great Escape Cars HQ. The AK427 Cobra had officially broken us.
Despite getting lost and being one of the most uncomfortable cars we’ve ever driven, the AK427 didn’t detract from the day. The Breaking for the Border Road Trip was brilliant fun and it was a great way to sample some of the classic cars Great Escape Cars have for hire. It was a pity we only got to drive 4 out of the potential 5 cars on the day but we still really enjoyed it the cars we drove.
Usually they say you should leave the best until last. For us the best came at the start of the day with the Audi UR Quattro. What a machine that was! We could have driven that car all day and we wished we had it during the hilly Welsh stages, the kind of roads it was built to tackle. The MGB didn’t have the power of the Quattro or its 4WD system, but it still handled really well and felt very sporty indeed. The little Fiat 500 was a great laugh even though it was the slowest car of the day. And finally there was the AK427… with a few adjustments it could make a great drivers V8 but it didn’t work for us sadly.
And there we have it… we completed the Great Escape Road Trip! Hurrah! We would like to thank Graham Eason and everyone at Great Escape Cars for their hospitality for a great day out. Can we have a go in Quattro again?