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    END OF TERM #Vauxhall-VXR8-GTS / #2017 / #Vauxhall-VXR8 / #HSV-GTS-Gen-F / #Holden-HSV-GTS-Gen-F / #HSV-GTS / #GM

    This car is the last of its kind, but what a way to bow out

    When I look back on my time with the VXR8, it’s nearly always with a smile. Okay, so when an overdraft warning pinged through on my phone I might have rued the 18.1mpg, but even when the children were eating gruel and my wife was darning socks, I reckon it was probably worth it. The VXR8 GTS isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s unique, big-hearted and almost impossible not to love (unless you’re Dickie Meaden, who hates it).

    I wanted to run this huge Vauxhall because it represents the end of an era for the incredible line of V8- powered, rear-drive saloons built in Australia. Ford no longer builds the Falcon and now the Holden Commodore – on which this car is based – is dying, too. The whole Holden versus Ford rivalry is like a way of life for car enthusiasts in Australia, so it must feel especially painful for hardcore fans of the V8 Supercars race series, who’ve grown up as ‘Ford guys’ or ‘Holden guys’. I don’t have that history but even so it’s sad to see this loud, lairy breed disappear from the motoring landscape. Other reasons? The practicality, of course. And the 6.2-litre supercharged V8 with 576bhp and 545lb ft.

    While the £56,234 VXR8 GTS is a dinosaur scavenging for fuel under the dark cloud of a meteor strike, it’s not at all crude and certainly doesn’t require great sacrifice to live with. In fact, it’s unbelievably comfortable, riding on sophisticated magnetorheological dampers, and it features torque vectoring by braking, multiple driving modes for various situations and has all the toys you could imagine. It’ll even park itself. Fitted with the optional six-speed automatic gearbox it covers ground like nothing else, loping along at big speeds with the engine turning slowly and the soft but supportive seats vanishing away the miles. Three-up back from the Nürburgring with a boot full of camera gear, it was almost serene.

    Journeys like that were a pretty regular part of life for our GTS – back and forth to the Ring a couple of times, supporting shoots at Spa, trawling across to Wales seemingly every month – and it really did excel in those situations. More usually it was trips to the airport, the odd school run and blasts into the office. evo moved in the summer, and the new commute was fantastic from my place. About 25 minutes of deserted and wide country roads with some wicked cresting corners and even a banked, Karussell-style left through a tunnel of trees. At full tilt the sheer performance the VXR8 GTS deployed for this journey was actually pretty stunning. It was easy to forget the #V8 ’s extreme power output when driving even quite quickly, as the slightly monotone engine note could lead you to change up at little more than 4000rpm. But if you held out to the limiter you got a manic supercharger noise to enjoy and truly eye-popping acceleration.

    It was only when you tried to use that 576bhp that you appreciated the full magic of the chassis, too. The car always felt surprisingly balanced and composed – although short, sharp bumps could get it fidgeting and feeling slightly out of phase with the surface – but it was with the stability control off that you could enjoy its full repertoire. Despite expectations, it was not a monster drift machine. There was too much grip and traction to slide around at low speed. However, it always felt very rear-driven and when you committed early to the throttle you could feel the rear tyres take the strain, the balance just teetering on the edge of oversteer. In the dry it was a sensational feeling and the car never felt unruly. In the wet, it was better to leave the traction control very much on, though. After many thousands of miles I felt I was still learning the VXR8.

    I tended to skip Tour and Sport modes and head straight to Performance, enabling the torque vectoring. On smoother roads you could even use Track mode pretty comfortably to really tie down any float over undulations. I always used the paddles: I just can’t cope with fully automatic driving unless I’m stuck in traffic, and the gearbox was pretty fast and rarely frustrated me by not actioning a downshift request. In fact, the whole car felt nicely intuitive and in tune with your inputs.

    The VXR8 GTS was a great car for all occasions, then: vast and comfortable, wickedly fast and slightly irresponsible, and even surprisingly composed and enjoyable on track, with terrific brake and steering feel on the limit. The interior was relatively crummy, and some people couldn’t cope with the image, but I was sorry to see it go. Both from my driveway and the wider world. Life is all the brighter and more enjoyable with a VXR8 GTS for company. This or a new M3? No contest.

    Above: alongside its many ancestors at Vauxhall’s Heritage Centre in Luton. Right: the big Vaux was a true delight on the limit, dancing on the line between grip and slip with the poise of a far lighter car.

    ‘At full tilt the sheer performance the VXR8 GTS deployed was actually pretty stunning’

    Date acquired June #2016
    Duration of test 6 months
    Total test mileage 8922
    Overall mpg 18.1
    Costs £0
    Purchase price £56,234
    Value today £50,00
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    Jethro Bovingdon
    Jethro Bovingdon created a new group Vauxhall VXR8

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    Water wings ASTON MARTIN DESIGN TEAM HELPS CREATE AM37 ‘SPORTS SUPER YACHT’

    AM37 SPORTS BOAT / WORDS Jethro Bovingdon / IMAGES ASTON MARTIN / #Aston-Martin-AM37 / #Aston-Martin / #2016

    It doesn’t get much cooler than pointing the long, elegant bonnet of your Aston Martin south and not stopping until you get to Monaco on a warm summer’s evening. Maybe you’ll stay at the Hotel de Paris, spend an evening on the tables at the Casino de Monte-Carlo. The next day? A short amble down to the Hercules Port and then a day on the yacht, I guess. And it would be only natural and fitting for the yacht to be as effortlessly stylish as your Vanquish or One-77. Which is where the AM37 comes in, a collaboration between Quintessence Yachts and Aston Martin.

    And just about the most ridiculously desirable object on planet Earth. Aston Martin’s design department is obviously incredibly highly regarded even beyond the usual automotive boundaries. So much so that it has a three-person team under the banner ‘The Art of Living’ that’s dedicated to projects away from car design. They’ve produced fabric collections with renowned couture fabric and lace maker Emilia Burano, exquisite furniture with Formitalia and now the jaw-dropping AM37 with Quintessence.

    Marek Reichman, chief creative officer and design director, explains what made them take on such an ambitious project and what makes this 11.28-metre (37ft, hence the name) sports superyacht unique. You have to imagine him smiling broadly as you read, because he really is fired-up about the AM37. ‘Quintessence were coming with a blank sheet,’ he begins. ‘They were saying: “This is going to be your design, with some practical input from our naval architect.”

    ‘We clay-modelled it here, we did the surfacing here, every piece of data to create the boat came from here. So that was part of the attraction – they were not coming with a perceived view of what AM37 should be.’

    Even so, Reichman’s vision wasn’t easy to execute and there were plenty of heated debates with the naval architects, the Dutch firm Mulder Design. ‘It was harmonious after we’d had our struggles!’ he laughs. ‘What I learnt is that different disciplines apply the same techniques but at different times. It was like when I first got here. You have to prove your knowledge. Now the relationship is good – we’ve both learnt a huge amount and they’re saying: “We’re glad we didn’t force you away from those ideas.”’

    So it’s a luxurious, sporting yacht available with two 370bhp Mercury diesel engines or twin 430bhp #Mercury petrol engines, or in S form with twin 520bhp petrol engines and a top speed of 52 knots (60mph). It has a composite hull and carbonfibre structural strengthening, beautiful teak decking and accommodation consisting of a small galley kitchen, sofa/double bed, dining table and toilet (because even the superglamorous produce waste). Each AM37 will be built in Southampton and, while pricing hasn’t been confirmed, we’d bet on not getting much change from £1 million. But what makes it Aston Martin?

    ‘It’s always based around beauty. It has to be,’ explains Reichman. ‘In itself that creates longevity. The hull is very sharp – you look at the front view and many powerboats have a bluff front these days, whereas AM37 is quite traditional. I wanted this look so that when seen in profile AM37 has a very defined point at the front. Stemming from that is the teak cabin, the greenhouse flowing up from it with that unique concave glass. The metal strips that run from the tip of the yacht and sweep up the glass create a very cab-rearward look, so even when it’s static it looks like it’s powering away.’

    Beyond the simple beauty there’s innovation driven by the aesthetic, too. An electrically operated three-piece deck made from carbonfibre completely covers the cabin when the boat is moored and then retracts below the aft deck, where it joins the carbonfibre Bimini cover that can be raised to provide shade from the sun. Marek loves this feature. ‘When you’re moored you get this beautiful deck – and that came from the inspiration of seeing stunning Thames River cruisers: beautiful wooden cruisers that are so simple.’

    Of course an Aston Martin can’t just look right and Marek and Quintessence were at pains to ensure the AM37 was suitably effortless. ‘We wanted AM37 to feel like it’s planing, smooth and controlled,’ he recalls. ‘So you can only hear the sound of the water, not the boat interrupting it, fighting the surface. An incredibly serene ride, easy and comfortable to go fast in and therefore confidence-inspiring. It’s not an out and out speedboat, it’s a pleasure powerboat that has all the power that you need when you need it. Just like a DB11, absolutely. When you see AM37 moored beside one of our cars I’m certain you’ll see the shared philosophy, the shared authenticity. They’ll impart the same feelings and sensations.’

    ‘It has all the power that you need, when you need it. Just like a DB11, absolutely’

    Left, from the top Aston design themes continue into the cockpit; top speed will be 52 knots; carbonfibre deck slides forward to cover the cockpit when moored.
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    Jethro Bovingdon created a new group Maserati

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    Now fleeter of hoof / Ferrari’s Handling Speciale package sharpens California T / #2016 / #Ferrari-California-T / #Ferrari-California / #Ferrari

    Words Jethro Bovingdon / Photography Aston Parrot

    The California T (the first turbocharged Ferrari road car since the F40) makes up 30% of all Ferrari sales. Crucially, 50% of California customers are new to the Prancing Horse badge. Many go on to buy a more extreme mid-engined car such as the 488GTB, or take a giant stride up to Ferrari’s V12-engined GT cars. In other words, the accountants love it.

    Its 553bhp 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 makes it seriously fast yet, to those of us who equate the name with pin-sharp drivers’ cars and magnificent GTs, the California T can feel like a facsimile of the real thing rather than an authentic part of the family.

    The new Handling Speciale package looks to address that. It’s a £5568 option on top of the £155,230 list price and creates, we’re told, a much more exciting yet wholly civilised GT. Spring rates are up 16% at the front, 19% at the rear, the magnetorheological dampers are retuned, there’s a louder, sharper exhaust note, faster shifts for the seven-speed dual-clutch ’box, and the stability and traction control systems have been recalibrated.

    Firmer it might be but the ride remains more than acceptable when mooching. The exhaust note is well-judged, too: naughty enough but not embarrassingly loud, although there’s a shade more boom to it than in the standard car. The drivetrain has real quality though, with incredible throttle response for a turbocharged car.

    Up in the hills – real Ferrari country – the engine and ’box impress further. Upshifts are 30% faster and feel so much more precise, while downshifts are improved by a scarcely believable 40%. They feel pretty much instantaneous.

    Ferrari limits the V8’s massive torque, slowly revealing its true might as you click through the ratios and finally arrive at the full 557lb ft in seventh gear. It seems an odd deceit but actually it’s a stroke of genius, ensuring superb traction and a soaring normally aspirated style of delivery. For all that, the California T HS remains very much a GT rather than a blue-blooded sports car.

    Despite eye-popping performance, excellent brakes and a crackling soundtrack, the chassis is relatively soft. The balance is great but body control is less convincing and, in comparison to cars such as the cheaper Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet or Audi R8 (the Spider is coming), the HS just isn’t as locked down, as focused or as exciting. That wouldn’t be a problem if the HS had the elegance and majesty of a 250GT SWB California Spider, but it’s way short of that.

    So it remains a car for Ferrari’s accountants to enjoy and for those who wouldn’t know a California Spider if it ran them over but quite fancy a Mercedes SL-type car with a Ferrari badge. More committed drivers should keep saving for an F12 or slum it in an R8 Spider or 911 Turbo S Cabriolet instead.
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