Trackside at Abingdon airfield, a small crowd gathers in nervous anticipation.
Less than 100 yards away, a fleet of classic cars and modern muscle motors face the sunrise. Vapour billows from the exhaust and swirls into the early morning fog, interrupted only by the silhouettes of the pro-drivers striding between vehicles.
The line-up of cars unites Hollywood glamour and gritty history - a Corvette Stingray with a Star-Spangled Banner paintwork, a Camaro SS, even Eleanor, the Shelby GT500 from blockbuster Gone in 60 Seconds is ready to roll.
I was about to drive America's car chase heroes. Three laps around Abingdon race track, pedal to the metal, in four dream cars.
But I wasn't alone. GoCompare's own petrol head and F1 fanatic, Mike Gearon, was on hand to ask the important questions (“Will they be left-hand drive? Automatic or manual? Why is a Mustang dressed as a cop car tailing the Ford GT40?”) and put these all-American legends through their paces.
A sting in the tail
I’m in the Bumblebee Camaro ZL1, a modern monster featured in Transformers: The Last Knight with a V8 engine that hits 600 brake horsepower.
The Bumblebee is left-hand drive. It’s extraordinary plush leather interior and attractive space-age dash packs a memorable punch. It won't drive like my Nissan Juke, and that’s apparent immediately as we pull away from the pit stop.
The speedometer reflects neon blue in the windscreen. On the first straight, it rockets up to 80mph in the blink of an eye, but its top speed is 165mph – I didn’t even get close.
The steering wheel is compact, and it takes the corners lightly with the slightest of emphasis from the driver. It recovers quickly ready to roar back to base.
My instructor co-pilot and pro-rally driver, Sean, has had unbelievable experiences behind the wheel: “I built my own car and entered it in the Sol Rally Barbados. I’ve driven the Kuwait Rally too.” We both agree the Dakar Rally would be an endurance test, but never say never.
Mike picks the brand new 5.0 litre v8 2016 Ford Mustang GT - they liken it to Barricade from Transformers.
“Don’t get carried away…” we’re warned by the instructor, “lose control, and we’ll bring you in”.
Once in the GT, Mike speeds towards the horizon but it wasn’t as fast as all that.
“I drove like a granny on the first lap,” he later assures me, “but it was so powerful - it pushed me backward in my seat!” Who needs roller coasters?
“I started to relax and drove with one hand but I got a slap on the wrist. This isn’t the M4.”
This GT beast is a huge and light automatic right-hand drive – easy to forget you’re driving something of a supercar. “If I could pick one car for myself, it would be this,” says Mike.
My second choice is another Camaro, this time a baby blue 1968 SS – a nippy automatic, most famous for its appearances in the Fast & Furious franchise.
“The SS is a heavy old car with 1960s brakes, so ease into the corners and push the brakes early”, I’m cautioned by the pros, “but it’s got the best sounding engine. You won’t be disappointed.”
It’s classic American muscle at its finest. The exterior boasts a reg plate brandished ‘Oklahoma’, and a huge spoiler picked out with racing stripes heads up the bonnet. Its petite architectural wing mirrors are designs straight out of The Jetsons.
Once in the driver’s seat, the leather seating is worn and soft, but the mechanical components and engineering within the footwells are exposed. Again, it’s left-handed.
Pulling away from the pit stop, the enormous weight of the car is obvious. Getting around a corner needs core and bicep strength unlike anything I possess, and I believe that it was built to travel exclusively in straight lines.
As I sweat the small stuff, like turning, the instructor tells me when to put my foot down and brake so this goliath doesn’t get away from me, and every so often, laughs at my prim and proper posture as I crane my neck to see over the spoiler.
The Dukes of Hazzard
Finally, Mike snapped up the original Dukes of Hazzard star, ‘The General Lee’ 1969 Dodge Charger – it’s a piece of motoring history, making some of the most dramatic jumps ever seen on the small screen. It's a bit of memorabilia too - its bumper has been signed by the cast.
Up close, the Dodge Charger is a shock of dirty orange, well-worn and charismatic. Mike did not do ‘The General Lee hood slide’ or jump through the window to get in the driver’s seat.
“It’s the smell of the petrol, the sound of the engine… it’s a completely different and real driving experience,” explains Mike as he emerges from the car. “It was so heavy, incredible.”