For my birthday weekend Sarah, my wife, hired us a Jaguar E-type for 24 hours, and booked us a hotel in the Cotswolds. The plan was that we'd drive up to Great Escape Cars in Redditch to pick up the E-type, wend our way down to Tetbury, stay at the Hare and Hounds, then wend our way back to Redditch the next day.
Then Maserati said they had a GranTurismo Sport free for a few days and did I want to test it. Yes I bloody well did and thank you very much Maserati press office. By coincidence the four days I'd have the GranTurismo wrapped neatly around the 24 hours we'd have the E-type.
The Maserati turned up at 10am on the Friday of last weekend. I'd seen photos of the GranTurismo but never seen one in the flesh. I was dumbstruck. It is an exquisite car.
Like any work of art you need to spend time observing it, casting your eye over the nuances of the bodywork and the fine detail in the design, to appreciate it's beauty - which it has in spades.
The GranTurismo Sport is also a big car. It only just squeezes into our drive, whereas my Audi S4 Avant (which had been despatched to the neighbours drive for the duration) fits in with ease.
The car was painted Blu Mediterraneo and the interior was Bianco Pregiato - white to you and me. The combination of colours looked mighty fine but that white interior would get dirty very quickly if it was used as a daily driver. I'd go for something a little more dark.
Sarah and I left home in Berkshire at 2pm, only to find the A34 was at a standstill, so we did a U-turn and decided, instead of using the A34 and M40, to head to the Great Escape base (situated at the very northern tip of the Cotswolds) via Moreton-in-theMarsh, Evesham and Stratford-upon-Avon.
The journey was the better for it. The Maserati is incredibly refined, comfortable and fast. The Ferrari-built 4.7 litre, 460bhp, V8 also sounds the business. Journalists often come up with superlatives to describe the sound of particular engines. This needs none. It just sounds like a superbly constructed, free-revving, large capacity, V8 with a 7500rpm redline.
We arrived at Great Escape late. We were meant to be there at 4pm but turned up just after 5pm. They were nonplussed. Graham Eason, the owner, is a lovely chap who obviously dotes on the cars in his care.
The E-type was waiting for us at the entrance to their unit. I've seen plenty of E-types before but up-close the incredible beauty of the car was mesmerising. E-types just have an aura. The feminine lines draw observers towards it, to inspect it at close quarters. It is a treat to appreciate the detail and shape of the roadster. It makes you smile.
Sarah is not a petrolhead but she had fallen head over heels for the Maserati, and she fell head over heels again, for the E-type.
Graham talked us through the car. The procedure required to start it, how to unfold and fold the roof, how to find reverse (give it a good shove left and down at the same time). He didn't nanny us but gave us practical advice and trusted us to respect the 41 year old machine.
We left the GranTurismo with Great Escape (note to Maserati - it was locked up inside an alarmed, security-patroled industrial unit!) and set off for Tetbury.
It took me about an hour to adjust to driving the E-type. I often hop from one car to another but this required a whole new shift in thinking and perception. The steering is oily-smooth perfection, the 4 speed manual gearbox is precise but requires a thunk to get it in gear, the handling was precise, the 5.3 litre, V12 engine was the very essence of smooth, powerful delivery.
The rest of the experience is a little more rough round the edges though. An E-type's interior is pretty basic. The heating is either OFF or FURNACE. The sun visors just obscure your vision if pulled down. The windscreen wipers, windscreen washers, exterior lights and interior lights are operated by big switches on the dash.
The seats are neither supportive nor particularly comfortable, there is little legroom (due to the enormous transmission tunnel and gearbox bell-housing) and the interior is cramped.
But what the hell. We LOVED it. We were living the dream.
We checked into the Hare and Hounds, Tetbury over an hour late for dinner - which was haute cuisine at it's most haute. Then we drank ourselves silly on champagne and retired to our enormous suite. It had a separate lounge, which is pretty rare, and a huge bathroom. Well, it is rare in the expenses limited hotels I normally stay in.
On the Saturday morning we breakfasted at the hotel then headed north through the Cotswolds back to Redditch. We got lost on purpose and took in as many decent roads as we could. Sarah drove the E-type for an hour and enjoyed it immensely. It's such a characterful car. By-passers stop and stare at it as you drive by.
We dropped the E-type off just after 2pm and hopped back in the GranTurismo. The difference was spectacular but, with 41 years difference in their construction and a few more in design, so it should be. Both are grand tourers at their finest - and possibly the best in breed of their respective eras. Both attract so much warm-hearted attention and sheer goggle-eyed staring from strangers. None attracted any negative attention at all.
We arrived back home at 4.30pm and collapsed. Although I took the Maserati out for another spin in the evening.
On the Sunday we took our 10 year old son, Eddie, up to see his big sister who is at University in Nottingham. A 2 hour (each way) trip to take a 20 year old out for lunch might seem excessive but when you've a Maserati GranTurismo Sport on the drive you will find such excuses. It is a moreish car. So pleasantly able and capable it makes even motorway miles a delight.
By this time Sarah was relishing the attention the car generated. She's so taken with it she doesn't want Maserati to take it back. I'll write more about it in a full review but suffice to say I'm smitten too.
We got back from Nottingham late afternoon and I still found time to take it for a couple more drives. It goes back at 10am Monday - 3 hours after this article publishes - and we'll all be sad to see it go.
Many thanks to Great Escape Classic Car Hire. We paid for the E-type so can, without prejudice, state that it and the service received from the Great Escape team were second to none. Both Sarah and I would unreservedly recommend you hire one of their cars. Tell them Speedmonkey sent you and you'll get a 10% discount. Many thanks also to Maserati UK for loaning me the GranTurismo Sport.
I'll publish full reviews of both the Jaguar E-type V12 Roadster and Maserati GranTurismo Sport in the coming days.