Thursday, March 18, 2010


There's a thing called South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin this week. It's a huge trade show/festival/party/shindig that starts with New Media/Internet stuff, goes on to Music and is spanned by a film festival. It's centred on the Convention Center, and downtown Austin gets busy.

This attracts lots of vendors, one of whom is Chevrolet. They had a bunch of cars down by the Convention Centre for test driving. I wandered down there earlier this week just to see what was going on, since the Twittersphere was all abuzz with it. A Chevy chap pointed to a nearby Camaro and said, "You'd look good behind the wheel - want a drive?". I didn't take a lot of convincing!

So here's the Camaro, it is a stick shift, with a 6-litre engine and 436 horses.

It is quite a big car, but it was surprisingly easy to drive. The gearshift has a very short throw, and the gas pedal is responsive. Too bad that we only drove around a few blocks of downtown Austin, in busy city traffic, so I didn't really get a chance to really see what it could do, aside from one block where I downshifted to second and gave it some revs... It sounded very willing and sprang forward, but I had to quickly rein it in again, sadly.

The seating position is very low down, especially compared with my Jeep in which I sit high up. The Camaro lends itself to a laid-back, relaxed seating position, and the windows all seem as though you're peering out of a letter box slot. However, I was able to see all the road around me, so I guess it is a matter of getting used to the difference.

I liked driving the Camaro, it was some unexpected fun. The Chevy chap said they'd be there all week, and I could come back and try something else if I'd like.

So...... A couple of days later, I had to take my Jeep in for its oil change. I got them to check a few things and rotate the tyres while they were at it. Then, seeing as I was almost in town anyway, I figured I'd take the Chevy guys up on their offer.

I'd noticed this shiny Corvette on my previous visit, so my sights were firmly set upon it. And soon enough, I was in it!

The young woman who accompanied me this time wasn't too concerned with keeping me on such a tight leash, so she said I could drive anywhere I liked! Twitching the steering wheel towards San Antonio.... I turned back towards town and we did a lap of Town Lake (around the edge, not in it!).

The Corvette had an automatic shift, which always feels very strange to me as my left foot has nothing to do. It felt quite wide, so I eased into the traffic carefully. The automatic take-up wasn't as responsive as the Camaro's manual shift but again, it's a matter of getting used to things. However the gas pedal seemed to have quite a good effect, at least as far as the 30mph traffic flow would allow.

It was a glorious sunny, warm, Spring day in Austin, and we were driving around one of the coolest cities in an open-top sports car. Damn!

Returning to my Jeep, it certainly felt different to drive. Taller and thinner than than the Corvette, but no less responsive in city traffic. I headed off to the freeway to go home, and this is when my Jeep showed her displeasure at my automotive transgressions this week.... got up past 50mph and had a violent shudder from the steering like nothing else I'd experienced. Yow! Pulled off into a nearby mall and called the garage, who sent out some guys, who diagnosed a bad tyre. They said since I'd had them rotated earlier, the fact one was out of whack was now readily apparent.

So off to the tyre shop I did go - slowly! Although I still had tread on each wheel, they were over 30,000 miles and four years old, and tyres perish in the hot Texas sun.

Now I have four shiny new tyres - even with sporty white writing on! - and so far I can report that my Jeep feels more planted on the road, with less squeaking and squirming from certain corners. They're a little wider than my old ones, so I look forward to driving some more.

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