Reviving the fine art of staying alive


A decade after the first close call of the afterlife our editor gets a second glimpse…

It may not count as much but I have been saying this loud and often. Most modern cars are made by geniuses. It has taken more than a hundred years of development and many billions and trillions of dollars of R & D money, but now you can safely say that if you took the statistical mean of everyone’s driving ability, (perhaps after first deciding how one reached a figure to quantify such a vacuous term) and rated it against the same so-called mean of the modern car’s driveability, you would see that the average driver is no match for the average car.

With due apologies to the Michael Schumachers, various Finnish champs and a whole host of car journalists – while drivers think otherwise, most cars are able to perform far better than their driver’s can dish out and handle. I don’t count myself in the elite league I have just mentioned. Perhaps it is my approaching dotage or innate love of life that keeps me firmly at the 90% level of ‘checking out’ the limits of a car.

A member of my fraternity practically initiated me in the dark side of pushing a car to the limits, by saying “don’t worry, the manufacturer can afford to lose the car”. Over the years I have studiously steered clear of travelling with said journo and various manufacturers have had to grin and bear the write-off of their press cars at his eager hands. But the luck of the devil rides with him, he is always back for more.

A close shave with another journo, this time one who was a newbie compared to the years I had put in this business, made me coin survival rule number 27 in my mental black book. Ergo, when partnering a newbie or unknown driver in the usual two journalists to one car format that most car manufacturers thrust on you as you drive on their outings, let said quantity of Y do his or her driving before said rule maker takes the wheel. That way around said rule maker can then enjoy the slightly more demanding limits of more than a decade of testing cars for a living without Y wanting to multiply the experience. Confusing rule? Trust me – it was born of the experience of seeing death at close quarters beckon over a cliff face as X tried to outdo my session.

But then rules are made to be broken or forgotten at the very least. And by forgetting rule number 27, I put myself back in the hotseat. This time it was at the slalom run that was set up to show off the new BMW 5-series’ capability. As luck would have it, this time around I was riding with an X who loved the experience of being shot through the slalom. Two runs at top speed, no cones down and the blood, it was aracing. So X takes the wheel and 27 is thrown out of the window as we close it for the run. Wrong angle of approach, too much accelerator and hands all over the place. Then panic sets in and instead of the brake, X hits the gas pedal and we surge towards a sandy embankment.

This time, either my reflexes were slower or age had made me more fatalistic. Or maybe I didn’t have the time to panic. All I was thinking was, “I am in a BMW, I’ll survive this…” as we hit the embankment.

Other than some suspension damage which put the car out of action, there was nothing hurt other than the ego. Not X’s, for it was the car to blame. The hurt ego was mine, for I had allowed myself to fall into the trap of not following a basic survival rule.

Of course, this incident has already buzzed itself around the fraternity in Muscat, through the joys of twitter and facebook and so the next time I get in the car with anyone in town, I am sure they will be waiting for me to hand over the driving at the outset. Whover my co-driver maybe may please note that my grin will not be an indication of your driving skills, it will be the result of my remembering to apply rule no 27.

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