A similar scene, somewhere else
It snows rarely round here (last year's was the first snowfall I can remember for at least ten years) but when it does, it doesn't mess about. I was half-way to Carmarthen this morning for my Door supervisor training, when it started. It went from cold, sleety rain to proper snow in a couple of minutes, and before I had covered a mile the A40 was white from side to side, and the traffic slowed to about 40 mph. I started getting a little nervous when a white car overtook me at about 60 and then had to dab his brakes when a white van pulled out in front of him. The white car span across both lanes of the carriageway, over the hard shoulder, back into the fast lane; and then recovered and carried on at the same speed. Good save, poor judgement. And then I got to the roundabout at Carmarthen, slowed to 10 mph, applied the brake gently, and the ABS kicked in immediately and the car slid forward for 20 yards. I had left plenty of room between me and the car in front, so no drama, but the loss of control was absolute. It's a horrible feeling.
I quite like driving in snow, and having lived in East Yorkshire for many years I have had plenty of practice. But the Mondeo is the worst car I have ever driven in snowy or icy conditions. It's a good car to drive (for a car!), and has plenty of grip in the dry and the wet. But as soon as the road surface gets icy, it loses all its composure and behaves like a bar of soap on a wet bathroom floor. The ABS cuts in almost immediately, robbing you of any delicacy in braking, and traction uphill is almost non-existent. I've had more 'helpless' snow/ice moments in the Mondeo than in any other car. I can't think why, as the tyres are in good condition with plenty of tread. I suspect it is the fact that it is a heavy car with a long wheelbase (it's the estate model), and there just isn't enough mass on the front end.
When I lived in the Yorkshire Wolds, I had a Triumph Dolomite (actually two, one after the other, both cast-offs bought from my Dad), and they were quite effective, especially with a block of concrete in the boot. No ABS, and rear wheel drive, so what they lacked in outright traction, they gained in controllability. In fact, the Dolly, given a bit of snow and no other traffic, could be a whole lot of fun. But the best car I have ever driven in snow was my Citroen 2CV6 (and its replacement, a Dyane - the same car with a posher but less stylish body). I commuted between Stamford Bridge and Hull through the winters of 1980 to 1983, and I never once failed to get to work. On one occasion, there was a complete white-out on the A1079, and I passed a strange thing at the side of the road that looked like someone had left a ladder lying there. It turned out to be the top of a petrol tanker which had slid into the roadside ditch and been covered in a snowdrift. The 2CV pootled on past, no worries.
I can think of five reasons why the 2CV is brilliant in snow:
- Low power (29 bhp; a 602cc air-cooled flat twin) so you are never tempted just to jam your foot down and blast your way out - which never works anyway;
- Modest brakes, four tiny drums, that are no more than adequate for normal use, but are sensitive in slippery conditions;
- Narrow tyres which dig down into the snow and find the grip that wider tyres just float over;
- Light weight (just over half a tonne), which means the tyres don't have too much mass to contend with;
- Good ground clearance.
I loved that little car, and if I had the money I would have another one in a heartbeat - just for days like today. Mine looked like this:
but with the square headlights of the 1979 model. Oh, YVY 27V, where are you now? Last taxed in 1984, so probably dead.