Critical feature of the Ford Focus RS (above) is probably the body shell redesign that stiffens it beautifully. It provides assured handling yet a surprisingly compliant ride. Magazine track testers (as opposed to road testers) were lyrical. Not quite sure what they meant by “barmy and tremendously engaging” but I was astonished to find that on the road it was perfectly civilised, tractable and even comfortable. The tyre-smoking adventurers who seem to inhabit car magazines these days probably had Drive Mode turned to the curious “Drift” setting, giving what Ford calls “controlled oversteer” on corners. That is to say you can, in the old jargon of Jack Brabham in about 1960, “hang the tail out”, a cornering technique that hasn’t been seen in Formula 1 much from that day to this.
I suppose it’s spectacular but in terms of ftds I can’t see it being swifter. More Top Gear than Real World. The Focus’s four wheel drive biases the torque to achieve the effect rather than enhance the driving. Drive Mode backed off to Normal does a perfectly good job thank you with commendable grip enabling 350PS from the 2.3litre turbocharged 4-cylinder to propel you with equanimity You get to 60 in less than 5sec and I’m sure onwards to 165mph if pressed. The RS turns out to be astonishingly refined and even acceptably quiet for a car so fast. You could pay twice the price (£35,125 for the all-bells-and-whistles nitrous blue one I had) for something with a far fancier name than Ford.
You might argue that the Launch Control and Drive Mode stuff confers driving skill to the electronics but it makes going fast a whole lot safer for wistful Jack Brabhams. Superb seats hold you in place; you’re fitted-in to an RS so you are both-all-of-a-piece and in full control. Autocar was right. Five Star and Tremendously Engaging. Maybe “barmy” on track days but with engineering that flatters drivers so they can show off quite securely.
Used the RS at the Association of Scottish Motoring Writers’ presentation of the Jim Clark Memorial Award to the Bo’ness Hill Climb Revival. Bill Drysdale and Kenny Baird collected the trophy for the committee that re-established the venue as a sort of mini-Goodwood for a series now in its ninth year.
Bo’ness hill-climbs started in 1932 with the West Lothian Motorcycle Club and later the Scottish Sporting Car Club. The first combined car and motorcycle meeting was in June 1934 and the RAC gave it an International License in 1947 for the inaugural British Hill Climb Championship. It was the first motoring competition I ever went to. Aged about 13 I took a bus from Motherwell.
To mark the 60th anniversary of Bo’ness in 2007, enthusiasts drove historic cars on what was left of the course. Bo’ness Hill Climb Revival Ltd, now with over 200 members and a restored track, is a worthy recipient. Stephen Park, president of the ASMW told us, “Bo’ness is the oldest permanent motorsport venue in Scotland and the committee has ensured that classic car enthusiasts can continue to enjoy this special track for years to come.”
The next meeting takes place on 3rd and 4th September.
Drove the RS to the Clyde steamer Queen Mary II (picture from splendid Hart Maclagen & Will Steamers of the Clyde) now berthed in Greenock. It’s a year older than both me and the Bo’ness hill-climb and, a bit like both, has been saved from the breaker’s yard. But, still a bit like both, needs repair and refurbishment. Known as Queen Mary II in my time it acquired the Roman numeral on the launch of Job Number 534 from John Brown’s yard on 27 September 1934 by Her Majesty Queen Mary. Cunard wanted the name for itself and Williamson-Buchanan gallantly altered its 18-month old turbine-powered Clyde steamer on the 10 o’clock service from Bridge Wharf to Dunoon and Rothesay. In due course it relinquished the II when the big Queen Mary retired to be a hotel at Long Beach. Stayed on it for the Long Beach Grand Prix. Booked in at the desk with Rob Walker old-school racing driver and team owner so well-connected the receptionist proffered him a hand-written note: “it’s from Miss Ginger Rogers sir.”
Picture an excited 7 or 8 year old just tall enough to peer over the bulwark of Queen Mary II at wartime shipping anchored by the Tail of the Bank, Queen Elizabeth painted grey as a troopship (above). Queen Mary II was grey then as well but still took us on holiday to Dunoon. It was retired in 1977 and moored by the Thames Embankment in the 1980s as a restaurant, its smooth-running turbines alas removed. One’s in a museum somewhere. What a treat to see it towed back to the Clyde by firstname.lastname@example.org, which has launched a £2m restoration programme with patron Robbie Coltrane. Look what a success the dear Waverley has been. It would cost a bit more to have that turbine brought out of the museum but heritage like this is priceless.