No business like snow business

As we huddle around the Jaguar E Type heater here at Great Escape towers craving warmth as the snow swirls outside, our thoughts turn to the best classic car for the snowy weather. We’ve been here before – last winter, without a 4×4 to depend on (the very dependable Larry the Jeep Laredo), we had to skid around in the Ford Capri. Fun at the time, and surprisingly effective as a snow plough. The first question to ask, of course, is whether you should use a classic in the snow at all. In the face of salt and safety, the answer is probably no. Classics like to rust a lot and they are somewhat bereft of the nannying features like airbags, ESP, ABS and the like which keep modern drivers so well insulated from their actions. But if we just decided never to use them in the snow then it wouldn’t make much of an article frankly so lets assume we’re talking strictly hypothetically. To work well in the snow, conventional wisdom has it that a car should be either 4 wheel drive or front wheel drive. This rules out most classic cars, which are resolutely rear wheel drive. And, to be fair, much more fun. The Great Escape Classic Car Hire Ford Capri may have been rear wheel drive but it was a lot of fun in the snow and coped extremely well. Which may be down to the second rule for snow driving success – narrow tyres and high profile rims. Our Capri runs on 175 r14 tyres, which might be laughable in today’s world of 245 20 inch rims but it was us laughing as we sailed past the stranded BMWs and Mercedes. Narrow high profile tyres literally cut through the snow and ice rather than skate across it, as fat tyres do. Snow-plugging cars also need to be light – or have four wheel drive. A light car needs less power to keep going and is inherently more nimble when the going gets tough. On a slippery hill a low power, light car will keep going when a powerful, heavy car gets stuck. Plus, it has the added advantage of being much easier to push out of trouble. Classic cars also have the advantage over modern cars because they lack so-called driver aids like ESP (traction control), which prevents cars losing traction. ESP cuts power to a spinning wheel. This is great news on damp roads or sudden sharp bends, but unfortunately the car can’t differentiate between these and a snowy, icy road. Consequently, when the going gets tough in the snow and the wheels need to spin to clear the ice and gain traction, the ESP system simply cuts power to the spinning wheels. So the car can’t move. The trick with maintaining momentum and traction in the snow is to select a high gear and manipulate the clutch and throttle. This tends to be easier in older cars which have mechanically operated clutch, gearbox and throttle, giving the driver greater feel and control compared to modern ‘fly by wire’ type systems. So despite the onset of modern driver aids, perhaps classic cars are better in the snow than modern cars because they are simpler. But what classic would be best for snow driving? Pushing aside classic 4x4s because they’re just cheating, at Great Escape Classic Car Hire we’d probably plump for a front wheel drive 1980s classic like a Golf GTI mk1 – light, fairly powerful, no driver aids and narrow high profile tyres. The problem is, we wouldn’t want to take our mint 1982 example out in the snow!

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