Monday, 10 December 2007

The Cold Car Caper

As you will all know, there are two types of car enthusiast: those who have experienced a Crap Car Caper, and those who have not. Myself and Tim Colley most definitely fall into the former category.

In May of this year, when Caper #1 occurred, when Scott Woodcock and I joined Tim in his coupe for a jaunt up to Nottingham to purchase a Rover 820 Tickford. The journey home was punctuated by some high-speed class-spotting and by the surprise of a Scooby driver at the guerrilla assault he received from said turbocharged convoy, which, to the untrained eye, might have looked like a couple of lethargic old knackers. Then in June, Tim returned the favour. Caper #2 involved two days, the Tickford, Keith Adams, several laybys, a knackered and misfiring Rover 820i and a lot of Red Bull, and resulted in my ownership of probably the worst car I have ever driven... until now.

Time passed, as is its wont. Both Tim and myself were desperate for Caper #3, so when Keith offered to loan me his Range Rover for a week to provide transport for my work experience placement, I jumped at the opportunity - and Tim kindly agreed to help out, on the agreement that I'd lend him an amp and a sub I had spare later in the day. So at 9am on a Saturday morning, after a refreshing 4 hour sleep, Tim picked me up from university, in (as has become customary) the Tomcat Turbo.

I should explain at this point that, after borrowing it for Caper #1, I am in love with this car. The first boosted kick-in-the-back was enough to cure my hangover, and despite the miserable weather we made swift progress down the road to Peterborough and the Practical Classics workshop.

Leaving a car unattended on a seedy industrial estate is brave. Leaving a car unattended and unlocked on an industrial estate is almost asking for trouble. Leaving the keys to said unattended, unlocked car in the boot could almost be said to be foolhardy. It is a measure of the sheer sheddiness of this Range Rover that it was still very much present and correct when we arrived to collect it. A G-reg Vogue SE, with all the toys and a leather interior, a stonking great V8, and an LPG conversion to boot? 'Ooh sir, suit you sir,' you might be thinking. Suit me, my behind.

I won't beat around the bush here - me and the Rangie didn't instantly hit it off. Much of this initial grumpiness was due to something Keith had warned me about - the lack of a heater. This forced me to wear so many layers of clothing I resembled the promotional tool of a well-known tyre company, but as this photo demonstrates, I still couldn't control my shivering...

I will transcribe, in full, the text of a voice-memo I recorded, half an hour into the journey home. For best effect, shout these remarks in a force-9 gale, to the accompaniment of a skipping Mark Ronson CD, in a voice somewhere between Harry Enfield's Kevin and Mariella Frostrup...

'Right, these are my thoughts on the Range Rover so far. It's probably about, ooh, five degrees outside, it's raining, verging on the sleet, and... I am sat in a car with no heater. I've got a hoodie on, I've got a jacket on, sadly I don't have any gloves. My hands are freezing. Erm... and because the windscreen keeps misting up from the rain, I'm having to drive along with the window wide open... hence why I'm being forced to SHOUT. We've been for a performance run - top whack was seventy miles per hour... nearly killed somebody in a Renault Clio when I was making a lot of noise and... erroneously assumed that I had overtaken them. I'm so cold.'

For despite a supposed 182bhp (this was later proved to be utter bollocks, but was my supposition at the time), this car's auto box was trying its hardest to ensure that not a single gee-gee got as far as the actual wheels. I did once see eighty, but just as I had been warned, the lack balancing on the front right-hand wheel made such reckless speeds undesirable. Meanwhile, Tim 'Smug bastard' Colley turned the heater up a notch in his coupe, but soon penance was to come in the form of a shower of LPG. Neither of us had ever experienced the fuel before, and while it is satisfying to see the meter read '30 litres - £14.00', it's a serious faff! A blog on the subject will be forthcoming soon.

The normal loveliness of the A429 provided the Rangie with a further opportunity to piss me off. Without the power to overtake, I was forced to sit back and try to catalogue the interesting selection of noises emanating from various distant corners of the beast. There was the whirring when I pressed the brake pedal, the tappety hiss of the engine, the occasional groan from God knows where, a clonk from the transmission and a harmonious clank from the right-hand CV joint. Next on my list of gripes came the hardness and lack of travel of the brake pedal, and the the dim-witted auto box which seemed grimly determined to prevent me from cresting hills altogether.

Parking it in my mother's street was a ten-minute affair owing to the sheer bulk of the thing, and the fact that the auto box had by this time gone into "sulk" mode, refusing stubbornly to engage reverse gear for minutes on end, then suddenly CLUNK! And you've hit number 38's Merc. Despairing, I went to play with Tim's coupe instead, and spent an evening defrosting.

So I've got 140 miles to do tomorrow to my jumping-off point for the work experience - then 60 miles per day for five days. A total of 550 miles including today's jaunt, this Caper is longer than most. Given the above, I should in all honesty be dreading it. And yet... I can't help but warm to the Coldest 4x4xFar. It's pushing me away, yet for some reason I'm coming back for more. Without a shadow of a doubt, it's the worst car I've ever driven (and I've driven some snotters in my few short years on the road), but I find myself with an irrational hankering to drive a good example of the breed.

Glutton for punishment? CHPD victim in the making? More importantly, is there a cure? I guess I'll find out over the coming week.

Cheers to Tim for Caper assistance, great company as ever, and a quick blast in the Turbo. Cheers (I think...) to Keith for the loan of the Rangie - hope I don't sound TOO ungrateful and spoiled. It's 3 degrees outside. I'm going for a drive. I might, as a better man than me once said, be some time.