Monday, 30 November 2009


For a self confessed car-nerd, my car history really is crap.

Aged 18, after a spell in my mother's white Micra 1.0 - which made me look like Noddy - I splashed out £200 on my first car, a Rover 214 SLi. I loved it dearly: it stalled at every junction, ate front tyres, and failed its MOT spectacularly after three months, needing a lamda sensor, full new exhaust, and some welding.

I sold it to the boy Hugh for £50, who, armed with an MOT by return of post, cruised around in it for about a month before seizing the engine on the Longbridge roundabout. Somehow, by the time he came to collect it the next day, it had disappeared altogether. Ghost car or practical thief?

Mindful of my overindulgence, I went for solid and Germanic a year later, splashing £650 on a VW Polo Saloon 1.6 with a rusty rear arch. This was, at least, reliable: but it had as much poise as a St Bernard on a greased linoleum. Also, the windscreen wiper sheared clean off in monsoon conditions at 80 on the M6: possibly in a sort of windscreen wiper version of a midlife crisis, being desperate to find more new and exciting activities than being attached to one of the ugliest cars ever made.

This one was sold for £590 with very little clutch left, so at least it wasn't a commercial disaster.

Then we entered the banger rally phase, where I owned, in succession: a third of a chavved-up BMW 320i which made it 2000 miles before seizing its diff; the whole of a grey Rover 820i with an engine condition that can only be described as "vindictive asthma" that made it 1000 miles before utterly lunching its rear brake calipers; and an Audi 100E which, although making a rather lovely 5-pot burble, had a fuel cut-off at 5000rpm, which was somewhat terrifying when you tried to overtake for the first time. Change down, pull out, floor the gas, appreciate the burble, SHITSHITSHIT, change undergarments.

We left that one at an Italian scrapyard.

Over the Christmas period of that year, I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a couple of loan cars: a Range Rover Vogue V8 - terrible in every single respect, from the square wheels to the broken heater to the inability to top 70 - and, fatefully, a Rover 216gti that I enjoyed very much despite its slipping clutch, clonking brakes and knackered suspension bushes. Only having it for a day, I suppose, may well have helped my spectacles to remain rosy.

My next port of call was Japan for a loan spell in a very swift Civic VTI, owned by the boy Hugh. It announced its displeasure at finding its name on such an undistinguished list by conking out on the way home from the pub two days after taking delivery, leaving me waiting for the RAC in what turned out to be a rather popular dogging spot. Every cloud has a silver lining, I suppose. After a 70 mile tow home, Hugh gave it a good seeing to and it gave faultless service for another month, when a bolt fell off its gear linkage in Asda carpark. It was, I suppose, not really crap as such, but it was wholly impractical - it had two seats, one functioning window, no interior and a storm drain instead of an exhaust, which endeared me to my neighbours to such an extent that one of them decided to express their opinion through the artistic medium of a key and my paintjob. Thanks.

After the Civic rumbled back to Hugh's grasping mitts (where it swiftly put his license in severe jeopardy), I decided to spend the £500 I had available to me on a small, sensible, easy to insure diesel hatchback. That an E30 318i touring resulted from this shopping trip says much about my attitude to car purchase, especially as said E30 had 189,000 miles, no radiator worth speaking of, a whining diff, groaning PAS and a 30mpg thirst. Still, I enjoyed two whole months of enjoying my reflection in shop windows - she really was pretty - before someone erroneously decided she'd make a good getaway car and nicked her on Christmas day - the story of which can be found elsewhere on this blog.

Since then, I've had a Mondeo - worthy but boring, and the air conditioning smelt of mouldy drains - a Suzuki Alto with a knocking CV joint and a pink stripe on it, a Peugeot 106 diesel with a knackered exhaust and a leaking sunroof, a 1986 Reliant Rialto and a Suzuki Jimny. The latter was clean, tidy, reliable and respectable: so obviously we ripped it to bits and painted it yellow.

Where does all this leave me? Well, if I had any sense, it'd leave me with a severe distaste for cars in general.

Sadly, however, I a) have no sense, and b) am a member of So this Saturday I found myself on a train to Swansea, unsightly wonga-shaped bulge blighting my pocket. My target - a Rover 216 which had had all sorts of modifications to make it faster and more comfortable.

When I got there, the car wasn't how it had looked in the pictures... it was multicoloured, like Elmer the Elephant. Some parts of it were grey, some were silver, and some were just crap. The car, which had covered 190k, had 135k on the clocks, and the owner wanted over the odds for it. Obviously, I did the sensible thing and handed over £360 for it.

The drive home was enough to illustrate that the twin cam Honda engine was willing but gruffer than similar units in CRXs. Worse, it used £20 of fuel in 120 miles, but I wasn't going to be disheartened - he'd said it ran rich, after all.

Rich is not a word which would adequately describe me at the moment, as she's used the next £20 of fuel in 70 miles. She smells like the Jahre Viking running aground on Hemel Hempstead, and idles wherever she bloody well wants to - sometimes at 800, sometimes 400, sometimes 1500.

Elmer is now parked outside, where she will stay until a mechanic can look at her on Thursday. I've paid £360 for two days' nervous motoring in a patchwork car.

If and when she gets fixed, you can expect to read about my ownership experience, attempts to justfiy her foibles, and - inevitably - her eventual demise, be it through cold economics, hot-blooded windscreen-tree interface, theft, or (surprisingly likely at the moment) spontaneous combustion. But that's the weird thing. The only cars that have been vaguely sensible and reliable in that list - Polo, Mondeo - have merited but a marginal note at best, whereas the ones which have riled me and got my blood boiling have, at least, made a good anecdote.

So perhaps it's not so surprising that, as a car nut, my car copybook is far from un-blotted. Perhaps, in a strange sort of way, the two are linked.