Boy Racer to Comfort Driver

I was musing on this subject while driving. How our age has determined our choice of cars and how cars have evolved through technology. Have you noticed how cars no longer get Rust Monster disease and how you hardly bother to open the bonnet?

The fastest car I ever drove was one of the first Nissan 2000 SX’s in the country. A 2+bucket seat turbo with a top-end 60-80 in about 1 second. Nothing could ever beat me on the lights. They had never seen this car before.  On the M25 it was a car where I thought “I shall place my car in that gap” and no-one could stop me…

It was faster than my 3.0L Capri that was stolen from outside my house. That car was customised and featured in Custom Car magazine. It had a vinyl sunroof roof and tiny racing-car steering wheel. No power steering and when it braked it pulled a bit to the passenger side.

The police called me and took me to where it had crashed into a wall. That tiny steering wheel made it a bugger to control and lack of power steering meant it was difficult to manoeuvre. I felt good and bad. Bad that it had been stolen and written off. Good that the police said to me “What was in that thing? We couldn’t catch it”.

Its defect in braking saved me. I put too much pedal on it and was suddenly heading for a tree. I braked, the car pulled to the left and I missed the tree. It truly was a beast. Very heavy and the engine had a roar like the King lion of the pride…

It seems to me that we go through car phases like we go through our age. Young men with testosterone are looking for a car with pulling power and older men looking for an armchair on wheels with a bit of poke to see off the younger bucks.

I own up that when I had my Capri I would go out at night and just drive around looking for some boy-racer action off the lights. Given how difficult it was to handle the Capri I’m amazed I didn’t do any damage.

Lugosi, Going Postal
Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

My first car was a Hillman Imp. It’s all I could afford and I wanted something easy to drive. In the 1970’s every car driver was their own mechanic. With a Haynes manual in your hand, a few spanners, wrench, spark plug tool, spark plug gapper and screwdrivers you could take your car across the Gobi Desert knowing you could fix anything that went wrong with the engine and transmission. Many times I would be playing around with the distributor trying to get the timing spot on and I seem to remember a clip-on meter that would give you some information about how well you set-up your dwell angle.

I will always remember, from the Haynes manual the item called “grease nipples” which wasn’t an instruction pre-orgy but the location of where to apply axle grease.

My Imp wasn’t fast but I read that I could replace the Solex carburettor with a 125 CDS so I bought one and the correct manifold. The pedal to carb linkage was made of meccano and the cable had a habit of slipping off its plastic wheel. Car stops, pull over, dash around the back to the engine, put cable back and carry on.

Sparks were still being timed by the distributor but you could now buy a self-install electronic Ignition box. A bugger to figure out how to setup and tune but lots of fun. Hood up, tinker, close hood, drive around the block a few times, back home, hood up, repeat.

A young man desires speed and was satisfied by a company car, a Volkswagen Sirocco. It wasn’t bad, relatively fast but Germanic. A low centre of gravity and fast “like the wind”. It was wiped out by a motorcyclist coming around a bend in a suburban street, middle of the road and too fast. It’s one of those where you didn’t care how much damage he did to himself.

The job went south and I bought an Alfa Romeo Alfetta rust-bucket. Nothing I have owned since took a bend like that car in the way the whole chassis seemed to float around the corners. Nothing attracted so much rust.

On to a red TR7. There were a lot of TR 6’s available but just outside of my price range. My best friend borrowed it for a trip to Leeds. He was not aware what that red temperature light meant and didn’t stop and top up the water. I sold it for peanuts in a trade-in for a Cortina 2000E, the luxury Cortina.

Before the Nissan SX mentioned above I took a white Austin Montego MG as a company car, much to the amusement of my work colleagues. The funny story with this one was that I drove it to Liverpool to stay with a friend. One morning I went to a local supermarket and was followed by a police car. They stopped me. “What is the problem officer?“ Sorry sir when we see a car like yours up here and early morning we get a bit suspicious”.

Once you get past the Pulling phase you enter the Practical era. I can’t for the life of me remember how/why I ended-up driving a Mondeo but on one late afternoon when the weather started to dump six inches of snow rapidly and I was stuck in Hertford it took me six hours of heart in mouth driving to get home. “Never again!” I wasn’t going to risk my life like that so I decided I needed a 4×4. Also, with age starting to mess with my knees I wondered why people put up with a clutch.

Spoilt by driving an automatic in the USA I decided I would by an automatic CRV, part-time 4×4. It was a good car. I drove the old style with the spare wheel on the back. Had a bit of luck when I took it in for a routine service and they told me there had been an engine re-call. So, Honda paid for a new top-end and I had a car that drove very well.

You no longer needed those spanners because a glance under the hood told you to touch nothing. The most you would do is replace the battery. These days they seem to last for ten years.

With two kids so you need a 4/5 seater that can carry enough luggage to take to the airport. You now need a bit of comfort. You aren’t racing or pulling. You are down to Tesco or B&Q. You need that boot with foldable seats for bring home the self-assembly book-case from Ikea. Granny wants to get home in safety and comfort. You are a family man driver. You are the daughter’s taxi. You begin to favour a comfortable seat and a few driving aids as you start to get older.

We bought a Hyundai Getz so we could go on Family holidays. Worst car in the history of the universe. A 35mpg car that did 25mpg even on a run to Devon and back.

We traded that for a newer CRV. I buggered the back end reversing into a wheelie bin and the CRV only did 28mpg. I traded it for a Nissan Note Tekna 1.2 Retired so I wasn’t driving to work. I just needed something small and practical and I love car tec.

Last year my wife had a small accident, hardly any damage. The bastards (from Luton) made an injury claim eleven months later and screwed the insurance company who didn’t fight it. They invented a mother who wasn’t there. The result is that wife insisted on a dash-cam and I’ve added one to my own car.

As she/we get older you begin to appreciate driving aids. I want her to have a 4×4 because of the winter and for taking the dog every morning for a walk to the woods. Already her wheels are slipping. It’s complicated. It has to be an automatic with blind-spot warning and lane departure because she now relies on those driving aids. Hard to find at a second-hand price we are willing to pay. The new cars are too expensive.

As the children have left home you really only need a smaller car. Fuel economy becomes important if you are now on a pension rather than earning money. I love my current car. A second Nissan Note 1.2 Tekna 1.2L. 40mpg, lowest tax band. Cameras all around with proximity sensors, blind-side warnings and lane-departure warning. Sat Nav and Bluetooth phone. I’ve been known to listen to WMAL radio  (USA) while driving. It also satisfies the boy racer in me because it’s got a Turbo when you push down hard on the throttle. I’ve seen off the odd BMW.

The reversing and proximity cameras are a great aid to the ageing. As your neck and back stiffen it becomes harder to look around. Concentration might not be as sharp as when you were 25. The warning beeps and plotted-out pathway on the camera view, if you stay on the current steering lock you have selected, are all very useful.

Then your eyes start to give problems. Older people can suffer from night blindness. It affects you when it’s difficult to spot your left turn on a dark suburban street. I’ve missed the turn once or twice.

Then there’s the headlight flare at night. With cataracts starting to go not even the anti-glare glasses stop you seeing headlamp stars.

As we get older we have developed a driving intuition for dangerous situations but I like the idea that the car adds to that with technology.

Cars match the ages of man with a few exceptions. I could afford to buy the flashiest Nissan Turbo, a Range Rover or Jaguar but I’m not the type who wants to drive an FU car. I just want A to B with a bit of comfort, safety aids and decent mileage. If I get some aggro I just want to be able to put the foot down and surprise the tail-gater but even these days I’m starting to not be bothered. Set it on 75 and cruise control will do me.

© Lugosi 2020

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file