The president of IMV tells us what it’s like doing his first-ever test drive at Portugal’s Algarve International Circuit in the British luxury car
What does one expect when he reads a car review? A well-thought out article, written by an experienced motoring editor, at the very least. Humourous tone and engaging levels aside, you trust the writer to get his technical points right. After all, he’s one who’s used to cruising through European valleys and putting his foot to the pedal on circuits. It doesn’t sound like a bad place to be in, you think, taking a drive and writing about it. In other words, what may be your once-in-a-lifetime experience could quite possibly be the editor’s everyday.
But what happens when you take someone who’s not a motoring journo, and put him behind the wheel of one of the newest and fastest sports cars in the world? You’ll get a whole different story, wouldn’t you? And that’s exactly what Aston Martin did. The British luxury brand invited Michael von Schlippe, president of IMV, to Portugal to test-drive the newest Aston Martin Vantage. Kudos to Aston Martin for doing that, for it’s high time we read a review from a layman.
I’m not discrediting von Schlippe in any way (and this has nothing to do with the fact he’s my boss). That man has driven way more sports cars than I have (none to date). It may have something to do with our age gap, but back to my point. Today, you’ll be reading about what it’s like to drive a sports car, coming from someone who doesn’t test-drive luxury cars and write about them for a living.
Also, spoiler alert. Given that it’s von Schlippe’s first time going for a test-drive, he didn’t realise he could request for photos of him with/in the car. So we’ll have to make do with track and country shots.
Hi Michael! Before we talk about the Aston Martin Vantage, tell me more about your affinity with cars, and what you grew up with in your childhood.
I remember the first glossy magazine I read was Auto motor und sport, a German car magazine [Ed’s note: Michael is German]. I would fantasise about cars I would own. I knew I wanted a sports car. I always liked British sports cars. I loved MG (now-defunct), Triumph Spitfire, the Jaguar F- and E-Type. The British have a tradition of building beautiful sports cars. The Jaguar F and E-Types. Of course, I was watching James Bond, and there were always Aston Martins in the movie, and it could pull off really neat stunts.
I remember that when one of my classmates passed his driving exam, he bought an Alfa Romeo Bertone from the 60s. Everyone was extremely envious of him. Including me.
What was the first car you drove?
It was a Volkswagen, when I first started learning how to drive at the driving centre. I can’t remember the model, but I know it wasn’t a Golf because I was envious of my classmates who could drive a Volkswagen Golf at driving school.
What was the first car you owned then?
When I could afford my first car, I spent 500 Deutsche Marks [Ed’s note: Now obsolete, but it’s about S$400] on a Citroen. I bought a Mitsubishi Celeste after, and then a Toyota sports car. I had to get a loan from a bank to afford the Toyota. I had nightmares of crashing the car and not being able to repay the loan from the bank, so I sold the Toyota soon after.
What are some memories you associate with driving?
I’ve taken so many road trips all over Europe. At university, I’d take spontaneous trips with friends. We’d be in a bar in Munich, and we’d hype each other up saying, “Let’s have coffee at the Piazza San Marco in Venice tomorrow morning!” And we’d get into the car and drive for six hours across the Alps into Italy. We’d arrive in the morning, and yes, we did have our coffee at Piazza San Marco.
What do you look for in a car?
I’m really unpractical, I don’t care about everyday essentials. I enjoy a car with character. In Germany, my wife has a BMW Z4. It’s 10 years old, has a mechanical gearbox and many flaws, but I love to drive it. It’s all about the lifestyle. It’s a convertible, it’s a sports car, it’s fun driving it.
Tell me more about how you felt when you first saw the Aston Martin Vantage in Portugal.
I’ve never attended a test drive before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little intimidated, because everyone else present had done test drives before. I was a greenhorn. I was a little concerned about the challenges I would face.
What worries did you have?
I’m confident as a driver, but I had thoughts in my head. What would they (drive instructors) ask me to do? And when everyone got into the car with the driving instructor, we had to put on helmets and buckle up, and go on the race track, I was scared shitless.
The driving instructor sat in the driver’s seat first and took me around the circuit for the first three rounds. When you’re driving, you trust yourself. If you feel it’s too fast, you remove your foot from the pedal. But when you’re not in control of the speed, now that’s bit scary.
The Algarve circuit is a little unusual as it’s very hilly. You see the sky when you’re going uphill. The instructor was going at such a fast speed, I feared the car would ‘float’. It didn’t happen, but it was really scary. After the first three rounds, they let you take the wheel. You could do it on your own, but I opted to have the instructor with me.
How was that experience like then, taking the driver’s seat?
The Aston Martin Vantage has gearshifts at the steering wheel, which is really new to me. I’ve never used it before. I struggled to get used to it and could barely concentrate. To gear up, you’d tap the button on the right, and to gear down, to the left.
I also had to focus on the road and listen to what the instructor was telling me. Stick to the inside of the road, open up, break… it was quite overwhelming.
Just before the second round, the instructor told me that there’s an ‘Automatic’ button you can hit to make gear shifting automatic. I was super thankful. I pressed it, and the gear shifting was done for me. I could focus on driving the car, appreciating the roar of the engine, and enjoying the drive. At the Grand Stand of the circuit is a long stretch of road, and I think I managed to get to the top speed (314km/hr). It was really an unforgettable experience.
How does the Aston Martin Vantage compare to other cars you’ve driven?
I’ve driven the BMW 7 series, Porsche 911s and Carrera, a Chrysler convertible, Mercedes 190 SL, S class and the BMW Z9.
I’ve done mountain rallies, but this is completely different. You’re using state of the art technology, the car behaves so well on the road, you really have to do a lot to make it slide or oversteer.
When you go into a curve, you can do it at a high speed. The interesting thing, most other cars will drift to the outside. The Aston Martin Vantage sticks to the inside of the curve even after you accelerate.
Describe the Aston Martin Vantage in three words, and explain why.
It’s sporty. It has so many elements and characteristics of a racing car, that you wouldn’t mistake it for a daily streetcar. However, it can definitely be used as an everyday car. The day after we tested it on the track, we drove down little roads to the countryside in Portugal.
It’s comfortable and pleasant to drive. You sit in this car and you feel like you’re sitting in First Class. There’s a beautiful dashboard, you’ve all the entertainment options and GPS at your fingertips. It’s not loud, there’s no roughness that you sometimes get when you drive in a pure sports cars. I’ve driven in Porsches before, and it’s so much rougher.
It’s also beautiful. It’s very subtle in its visual approach. There’s a slight ‘animal rawness’ to it. The designers/crew says that it has a ‘predator core’ to it, and you see it in its outer appearance. But the same time, it’s very sleek. And to me, it’s the epitome of a gentleman’s car.