In many ways, 2008 was a very rubbish year… and, in just as many, it was the best one yet. Good things that happened abound – I found a great job and have driven some amazing cars; I still have my health; and I’m (just about) solvent. So, there should be little to complain about.
I did say at the beginning of 2008 that I wouldn’t be buying any more cars and that my plan was to see through the year in true Bangernomics style. It started out in fine style, picking up a cosmetically challenged 416Si for £100 (spares or repairs) from the North East (thanks Steven) and driving it back home without incident. Deciding to break the rules and spend a bit of money (as I liked it and thought it had a future), I put the nastiest of the rust right for £30 by picking up a pair of bolt-on wings (thanks Trevor)… However, that dream ended with a pool of oil under the car a few days later and one very sick K-Series.
Not to worry – there was another 400 I’d picked up for even less money (this time, from Dagenham) that I was confident of putting right… that dream ended when we found it had a cracked cylinder head.
So, two attempts at cheap motoring had failed before they’d started. No worries – I’m not easily deterred… so, when I spotted a local rough trader flogging a Peugeot 306 Alpine D for £300, I had to take a close look. And, yeah, I bought it. It had at least a couple of weeks’ MoT left on it – what could possibly go wrong. As it was, very little – it flew through an MoT (adjustment of the rear drums and a new track rod end), and I was on my way. Except that I really didn’t need it – and, although it would return 60mpg (slowly), I knew I would have to pass it on.
Which I did… to my former colleagues at PC mag where, after never running right, it caught fire, never to be seen again. Oops.
That had been replaced by a 1995 Nissan Primera 1.6 (thanks Dave), which I think was an excellent car – the depth of engineering shone through – and I truly believe I’d still have it now had I not lent it to someone who killed the clutch in one go…
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I’d negotiated to buy Practical Classics‘ Citroen AX GT (thanks Matt), which had never gone too well for the mag. While I’d been there, all its major faults had been sorted – that included headgasket, radiator, locks, gearbox internals, cambelt, fluids, filters… and yet, once it passed its MoT, it started whining like a bugger… and everyone gave up on it. I’d negotiated a sale with the Editor and, once I started driving it home, it was clear to me that all that was wrong with it was that its wheelbearing had worn out. Once fixed, we pressed it into service, and had great fun…
Except that in my drunken state after one long day’s driving on the CzechWrecks Rally, I’d agreed to sell it to my team mate, Andy Elphick. Bugger. The one car I willingly sell, and it’s all in one piece, and running like a dream.
Speaking of CzechWrecks – we bought a Skoda Felicia wagon for the event (for £100… honest) and one of the spring mounts promptly broke on a commute (that was funny). Bugger. Still, we got that sorted and forgot the lack of horses… and despite it being a hateful car, Dave, Andrew and I ended up loving it on our banger rally. Perhaps because we gave it away at the end of the event…
Never mind – there was always the cheap 216 Tomcat which I’d picked up from a friend on the forum. Ostensibly, I’d bought it as a cheap fixer-upper (from Gloucestershire) – it needed a bonnet, bumper, grille and headlights to end up looking like new again. And that’s what I did – picked up all the bits and turned this 60,000 miler into something looking very nice indeed. I spent my gardening leave between jobs making this car look the business – only to have the dream shattered when I took it in for a MoT and found that its K-Series had cracked a liner. Maybe I should have checked that first. Bugger. Should have kept the AX…
Still, another Rover came along to brighten my life – a 1996 827SLi (thanks Achim), which thanks to the generosity of a forum member came to me at no cost. It was in the North East – but never mind… it was free. Once the car was fixed (thanks to Steven who went out of his way to get it right) and safe to drive, a mate (thanks Pete) and I convoy’d it down to Blackpool – and I turned away, never looking back. Only later did I find out that it caught fire and was badly damaged… Bugger.
As the year progressed, my promise to not buy any cars – and excerise the rules of Bangernomics – had long since gone out of the window.
Once ensconced at Octane magazine, I soon earned a reputation for buying, owning, and rarely selling crap cars – it must have been weeks before I bought another one. I have no idea why, but I found myself missing my Saab 9000 Aero (it’s ‘away’ being fixed) and figured my life would be completed with the addition another one. I convinced myself that I should buy another one for spares (hah!) and promptly bought a £500 example from a chap on eBay, having never seen it, and only exchanging a couple of emails.
There was method in my madness too – the heater’s never worked on my 900 and, as the winter months approached, I knew that was going to be a pain in the neck. So, one night after work, Elphick and I drive up to Preston to pick up the 9000 sight-unseen. As it happens, the 210,000 mile example was pretty solid and provided, oh, at least two weeks’ trouble-free motoring. First the climate control fan wouldn’t switch off… then the heater packed up (see above for irony of this) and finally the bearing in the fan motor became so noisy that the only course of action was to remove the fuse and do without. D’oh! Still, on a run, it was pleasant enough – even if the front electric seat adjusters decided it was time to pack up. If you’re over 5ft tall, you will not be able to passenger in this car.
Still, there’s another Rover about to enter my life – and I know that one’s going to be okay. It’s a 1996 Sterling fastback (thanks Patrick), which I am sure will be just brilliant…
I shouldn’t moan really – because I’ve had the use of a nice new Subaru Outback on long-term test (thanks Ian Robertson of What Diesel magazine), and there has been a string of test cars to keep me amused during year.
Although the Outback’s been great – there have been some real headslapping moments along the way with some of the other cars during 2008. Driving Ford Heritage’s Capri 280 to Frankfurt was a highlight… except that it had exhaust valves that were out of adjustment, it wouldn’t idle and the battery wouldn’t hold its charge. You can imagine the rest on this very rainy trip. Mind you, it did manage 130mph on the Autobahn. Thank goodness for my £20 battery pack from Lidl.
The 540bhp Shelby-Mustang GT 500 I picked up for my first big drive story on Octane… every boy’s dream it was, too. I drove it to Switzerland, played in the Alps and came back in one piece. Well, almost. After picking up snapper Tom Salt from the airport, I promptly backed it into a post – and, then as we headed into the mountains, we met an army convoy coming the other way… and one of the trucks decided to put a couple of extra go faster stripes into it on a tight hairpin. Sheesh. Then I almost lost my licence in that one…
Then there was the Lotus Elan +2 from Spyder Engineering that I drove home one night and promptly flattened its one-piece hand-built exhaust manifold on some road debris.
But there are still my classics to keep me amused. Well, kinda. The Rover SD1 remains languishing in Poland – my money for that now gone thanks to an unpaid tax bill and utterly rubbish exchange rates; my Vauxhall Cavalier Sportshatch, which won’t run; and finally the ZAZ 968, which, after starring in Top Gear, could do with some genuine love and attention (anyone interested in buying this one, contact Julian Nowill, via me). There’s also an Alfasud sat in storage, which I dare not look at now, and my previously mentioned (and much-loved) 160mph Saab Aero, which will come home one day…
So, my New Year’s resolution for 2009 is a simple one – to have a quiet car life. I need to fix the cars that are worth something in my care (of which there are too many – Alfa, Tomcat, Sportshatch), and get them sold. Because it’s a great time to sell. Not. And not buy any more in the process.
So, if you feel the need to offload a free spare car – with all the best intentions in the world – please do not say so anywhere near me, because for all the above reasons, I need saving from myself.
Happy New Year, everyone!