Fun in the sun without sand in your sambos

Wed, Apr 18, 2012, 01:00

IT’S HOLIDAY booking time again, and while many of us will be drawn to the sunny skies and endless beaches of the Costas or the Adriatic Coast, all I see when I look at the photos in the travel agents is sunburn, seasickness and sand in my sandwiches.

I just can’t do a beach holiday. I’ve tried, but the thought of sitting in a deckchair, slapping on the factor 50 and trying to remember which wave my kids went under just doesn’t suit. Worse again is the thought of cramming self and family into an Airbus or Boeing, having run the gauntlet of expense and herding that is modern air travel. No, thanks.

So what, as a car nut, am I going to do on holiday? Obvious, really: rent a car.

I’ve always thought going on holiday should be a complete break. There’s no point going somewhere that’s full of other Irish people, staying in a hotel that’s less comfortable and pleasant than your own house and, worse again, renting the same kind of car you drive every day at home.

Most of us drive small or medium-sized hatchbacks and we drive them on the same old route every day, staring at the same acreage of grey plastic and familiar dials and radio buttons. How, then, can you justify the expense of going on holiday and ending up renting and driving the same damn car you drive at home. If a change is as good as a rest, then that’s not much of a change.

There are, thankfully, options. I’m the kind of guy who likes a stay-at-home holiday (obviously, given my airline aversion), so why not a spin up and down the beautiful west coast of Ireland in an E-Type Jaguar?

Yes, this is something you can do. Just outside Limerick you’ll find Elaine Davidson, her husband Chris and their company, Heritage Sports Cars. Now, there are a number of other companies in Ireland and the UK that will rent you a classic car, but they’re usually just for wedding hire and sometimes only for static display. Heritage’s fleet of E-Type, Porsche 911 SC, Triumph TR6, MGB, MG TF and Ferrari Mondial can all be booked, taken away and driven to your heart’s content.

“We get all sorts of people down here,” says Elaine. “Americans, Swiss, Canadians – from all over the world. And we get a lot of car enthusiasts from Ireland coming down to take the cars for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.”

But what of the old classic car bugbears – overheating, sticky throttles, wooden brakes?

“Our cars are very reliable and we maintain them to the highest standard. When people come and take a car, we’re careful to show them everything they need to know. We also provide breakdown assistance, although it’s only ever been needed for a puncture in five years so far. Most of the cars are quite simple once you get to know and drive them.”

Simple isn’t quite the word to describe the beautiful 1970 E-Type 2+2 coupé Elaine let me take out for a spin; epic is more like it. In all my years as a journalist, I had never driven the legendary E and, boy, did it live up to expectations.

The easy, torquey power of the 4.2-litre straight-six XK engine; the endless, rather Freudian, bonnet rising and falling with each touch of the power or brakes; the thin, wood-rimmed steering wheel, writhing and bucking through my fingers. With the sun blazing and the windows down, the driving experience was as intoxicating as the scents of maturing leather and warm oil. Fabulous.

You can have the Jag for €199 a day, or get a full week for just over €1,000. Too rich? Try the MGB for €119 or €600-odd for a week. There’s also a security deposit to be paid, starting at €500 for the MG and rising to €1,000 for the Ferrari.

If you’re travelling abroad, there are other companies willing to see you off in style. Camino Classico in Madrid will rent you an Alfa Romeo Spider, a Jaguar XJ6 saloon or a Mercedes 350SL, from €130 a day, while Classic Auto Rentals in Birmingham, Michigan, will happily put you in anything from a ‘64 Chevy Impala to a Mustang to a Cadillac with fins.

Yes, classic cars can be a nightmare of restoration and expense, but the beauty of the Heritage Sports Cars set-up is that you get to experience the sheer joy of classic car driving, and then hand it back – without worrying about maintenance or keeping it out of the bad weather.

I get that classics are not everyone’s cup of tea and you might want to turn to more modern cars to get your short-term thrills. Rather surprisingly, this can be done too.

Hertz, from which we’ve probably all rented at one time or another the usual grey, faceless rental hatchback, has a cunningly hidden subset of sports and supercars for rental, from locations all over the world, as part of its Adrenaline Collection.

In fact, it was really Hertz, back in the 1960s, that kicked off the whole exciting car rental idea, when it added Ford Mustang GT350s to its fleets. The cars, famously painted in black and gold, were essentially racing cars with seats and a radio; a fact quickly cottoned on to by aspiring racers, who would rent the Mustangs on a Friday, race on Sunday and return (if there was anything left to return) on the Monday.

Well that tradition is being kept up because right now, you can catch a flight to Heathrow and plonk yourself into a 563bhp Mercedes SLS AMG roadster, from the same Hertz desk as that guy renting a 1.25 Fiesta.

Now don’t go thinking that this is an especially affordable option. It’ll set you back £1,134 (€1,377) for just one day, with a 100-mile limit – and if you so much as scratch it or put a ding in the door, there’s a £5,000 (€6,070) insurance excess. Still, £1,1,34 would get you seven nights in Majorca in August for two of you and the kids. I know which I’d rather spend my money on . . .

Hertz has a cunningly hidden subset of sports and supercars for rental, from locations all over the world