So here I am, pounding 230 miles up the M1, limited by bloody traffic and awful 50mph speed-limited roadworks, just to look at a car that’s up for sale for – yes, really – £170. Given that my Citroen C6, the car I’m driving up in, is hardly the most economical form of transport, the economics of this trip are really quite questionable. And yet, given the car – a 1999 Honda Accord Coupe – and the fact it’s not for me, but for friend Richard Kilpatrick, I can’t really lose. After all, he’s going to cover my diesel, right?
I have to say, I love a car caper. The thrill of arranging to buy something very cheap, unseen, and with the promise of questionable reliability can’t be beaten for a crap car fan, like me. Actually, I am being cruel on Richard, as I know his car’s going to be far from crap – it’s a car that Rover could have made – had the Honda alliance continued – and, as a replacement for the 800 Coupe, these Accords do make a case for themselves, even in four-pot form. The car is in Whitley Bay, a place I’ve been to before on a crap car caper to collect an 800 V6, which you can read about in these pages. That car didn’t work out, but the run was great – hanging out with mates, having fun, it’s what driving should be all about.
The seller, an Autoshite regular, has fixed the Honda’s main Achilles’ Heel – it’s main relay – so, as far as I’m concerned, it’ll be good to go. Richard clearly thinks so, too, not bothering to put any tools in the back of my C6 as we head north. I do hope he won’t regret it.
As it’s a Saturday, the drive north is far from fun. The M1 is up in pieces, and everyone seems to be heading the same way. According to Honest John, who commented in response to one of my frustrated tweets, there’s 66 miles of roadworks between the M25 and Scotch Corner, and it seems that EVERY SINGLE ONE is over capacity on our drive up. In my car, which feels as large as the USS Nimitz in the narrow lanes, this is not a pleasant situation.
However, as the miles pass, and we head into God’s wonderful part of the country, Richard and I start to relax, while contemplating the Honda. It was discovered a few weeks back by Autoshite’s Wilson Wilson, and rather than let it be scrapped, he bought it himself (even though he didn’t need it), just so he could sell it on to a fellow enthusiast. Richard came along, loved the automatic Honda, made a bid, and armed with an honest description of the car, decided to grab it. Being the gent I am, I’d offered to take him up and follow him back, should there be any issues.
Transport for the drive to Whitley Bay – Keith’s Citroen C6 – was pretty comfortable
And the reason for the trip – Richard’s £170 Honda Accord
When we arrived in Whitley Bay, and set eyes on the Honda, I could see that we’d not been sold a pup. You know when you first clap eyes on a car whether it’s going to be a good ‘un or not – and, in this case, it looks fine to me. The Honda sits straight and true, it isn’t rusty (good news, as it’s lived by the sea for some time) and, when Richard jumps in to start it, the damned thing fires first time and settles down to a mechanically smooth well-engineered Honda idle.
There are some minor scrapes and scratches and the wheels are in need of a refurb but, as we spend time looking in and around this car, I’m seriously jealous of Richard – I think he’s done well here. There’s an engine light on and the exhaust rasps away a little noisily, but this really does seem like a conspicuous bargain to me – in fact, it’s a clear indicator that the UK’s used car market is absolutely nuts right now and we’re still living in a golden era for bargains if you like your cars big and (relatively) thirsty.
Deal done, after fish and chips, we head south, and the Honda looks good in motion, too. It doesn’t take long for the first cracks to appear. Within a couple of miles in Richard’s wake, I can smell brakes, and he is pulling into an abandoned petrol station. Arrgh! The rear caliper has stuck and the brakes are on full-time. Ah, well… With no tools at all, I suggest to Richard he drives the car backwards and forwards and thumps the pedal. He does so, and repeats a few times, and all seems good. We’re on our way again.
But not for long… As we pass Washington, he’s on the hard shoulder, grumbling again about his brakes. Once again, he thumps them a few times, and is on his way again. At a discrete distance, I can see there’s a little black smoke coming from the off-side rear but, as the miles pass, this ceases and the Honda looks happier as it lopes along at a sensible pace. A stop for fuel, and Richard slips in £30 for the 180-or-so miles to get him home, and rejoins the M1. Clearly, the rear pads have worn away, as he says it’s not so bad between 60-70mph.
The miles wear on, Saturday afternoon traffic becomes an evening crawl as the sun sets, and the Honda’s twin tail lights remain in my sights. Pondering this for a moment, I wonder at just how cheap driving in the UK has become for those able to get hold of reasonable insurance – the total for this trip would encompass my fuel for the C6 (£50), Richard’s fuel (£30) and the price of the car (£170). Given that a return rail ticket from Leicester to Newcastle would be £200, plus buses/taxis either side (£25), and the craziness of this deal becomes even more apparent.
At the final stop before the push home, and over a coffee, Richard’s enthusing over his latest purchase. ‘The stereo is awesome,’ he smiles. ‘And everything else works, including the cruise control and heated seats.’ Even if he scrapped the car when he got home, he’d be ahead, and he’d have enjoyed a lovely day out to the seaside. Not bad really…
The rest of the journey is just a simple game of avoiding mad drivers in the contraflows and keeping one’s cool in the jams. Yes, the M1 south of Sheffield is more than capable of grinding to a halt at 10pm on a Saturday night, thanks to peoples’ inability to merge in turn. In fact, now Richard’s Accord has survived this, I’m confident that once he changes a few consumables, it will go on for years to come. It could be argued you might not want to given the low value of the car – but, then, why would you not fix it for the sake of something simple?
And more than anything else, it reconfirms that we truly are in a golden age for Bangernomics motoring. I’ve been away from this for a while, thanks to owning my amazing, but rapidly depreciating, Citroen C6 – and doing this run has made me realise I’m missing the thrill of a good crap car caper. I’m already scouring the forums and websites for something similar to indulge in.
As for Richard’s journey back, he summed it up the next day by saying, ‘Aside from crap traffic jams because people are stupid (merge ahead of the lane closure you idiots, then we’d all get through at 30-40mph instead of having to stop to let you in), it made it down to Leicester on that £30, at motorway speeds, in comfort and with the radio providing remarkably good sound for some Bangin’ Choons. No overheating, spluttering or other maladies.’
‘Total cost including fish and chips and C6 fuel, too, is less than a train ticket from York to London. This country is insane.’
Couldn’t agree more…
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.