Times - Steve Keenan uses our Jaguar E-Type Coupe for the weekend
TURNING off the main Frome-Warminster road, I gunned the gleaming red bonnet down single track roads where sunlight fought for space with the silver birches and the road narrowed until cowed by steep-sided moss and fern banks.
Opening up to reveal little more than passing cowsheds and bramble-entangled wire fencing, the next left turn took us, unexpectedly, to the back entrance of Longleat. Now, it is one thing steering an 8ft bonnet around blind corners on muddy Wiltshire tracks in January: quite another letting loose a pack of baboons on the delicate, 35-year-old triple windscreen wipers of an E-type Jaguar Coupé.
Backing up, we rejoined the main A362 to Warminster and the covetous glances of other drivers. Looks couldnt hurt us. Unlike baboons or a canny lion eyeing a warm bonnet for a stretch and siesta.
It was Lizzie, my wife, who chose the E-type, as my knowledge of classic cars wouldnt fill the back of a Dinky toy box. And not just any E-type for the weekend, but a red one, please. The one for hire in Kent had just blown up, so we travelled to Warwick and Tony Merrygold, who has been collecting a clutch of classics for the past six years.
Pulling in to the drive of his home (and office of The Open Road) just off the M40, Lizzie admired an MG RV8 in the garage. Tony looked like the cat with the cream. Thats the one I drive, he says. My current favourite.
Hiring a classic car is becoming a popular pastime, with hotel stays arranged and original Minis and Morris Minor Travellers among the options for a novelty spin. Tony, a classicist, pursues the purist road and offers a Triumph TR4A, TR6, Stag or MGB among his stable of seven cars. Hes on the lookout for a Jaguar Mk2 the Morse Jag and an Austin Healey. People dont want to hire basic cars, they want something with a bit of power and fun.
Which brought us nicely to the E-type. Its a car even I remember with respect, from the days when I was painting go-faster stripes on my Cortina Mk1. And now here I was, 25 years later, sitting in a black leather seat behind the wheel as Tony took me through the banks of switches and gauges, describing the new Getrag gearbox and independent suspension while I nostagically fondled the push-button Pye radio and choke cable.
We nosed out for a gentle familiarisation ride, the long red bonnet stretching out in front. See the top of the headlamps? he asked. Just remember theres another 2ft to the front of the car. ...........