Don’t run away. I don’t think it’s that kind of post. There are only a few reactions you get when you mention cars; for those not interested you either get a checking out of your teeth to see if there are any genetic anomalies or there is a slight smile from the suspicion of compensating. Those who are car fans immediately want to talk about numbers; how big, powerful and all other kinds of statistics or want to talk about the latest models and I’m afraid I often struggle to elaborate as I’m not the kind of fan that gets into the specs.
I do however, have more than a passing interest in cars. I don’t know where this comes from; not my father for sure. My earliest memory of cars is of travelling with my family in the comforting back seat of our family travelling device, us all getting out and waving it away as it disappeared into a large building. Shortly afterward a blue coloured estate car (station wagon if you are American) appeared from the same place into which we all climbed with the excitement that this was our ‘new’ car. We had that car for a long time, I came to know that is was a Datsun 120Y and I can remember the number (licence) plate to this day.
As I said it wasn’t my father that gave me an interest in cars, he had no interest and I don’t remember him ever wielding a spanner (wrench); ever. He had a series of company cars as I grew up and though the seemingly regular line of new cars arriving every few years had some excitement they were all rather average, typical of a sales executive in the seventies and eighties.
So I can only imagine it was my brother that gave me the interest. Being 5 years older than me he was always a kind of role model and even though as I grew older and I tried to resist, trying to find my own individuality, ultimately we have generally had the same interests. After crashing my mother’s bright yellow Citroen not long after passing his driving test my brother purchased a Mk II Mini, this was followed by an Austin Healy Sprite and after an exchange of money the Mini then became my first car. He moved on to other sports cars owning various TVRs over the years.
That was the start of a complicated relationship between me and cars. I can’t say that I have been the most lucky person when it comes to cars. The Mini had many ups and downs; mostly downs. After an overhaul of one of the components the engine effectively blew up. I found a new engine and after installing, it similarly blew up. The third engine survived but then the car was stolen. It was found quickly and returned but after that rust ate though the rear sub-frame and ultimately the scrapyard took it away. My next car was a Rover P6 2200 TC, a lovely car that again had issues and got through three gearboxes. Before I bought it, it had obviously been in a serious accident that someone had managed to straighten out. Next was a Vauxhall Astra GTE, known to many in the eighties as a ‘Hot Hatch’. I managed to blow that engine up too and again it went for scrap (I never really liked it). Money was tight then as I hadn’t even paid off the loan for the Astra and had to buy something cheap just to get me to and from work; a Ford Cortina Mk 4 came into my life. It wasn’t pretty, it was a rusty brown colour, but after some cleaning and some upgraded seats it was actually a very comfortable and reliable car which I sold on to friends and it kept going for many years. Next for me was a VW Camper (bus) which again developed engine trouble and I lost money selling back to the garage I bought it from. Next was a more normal Citroen BX which I liked and it only went when I myself started on the mediocre company car road.
My luck with cars did have high points. Bored with modern cars as I approached mid-life (no, not a crisis) I bought myself a Jensen Interceptor which is the best car I have ever owned and although we had our mishaps it brought many miles of happiness. Whilst owning that I also picked up a restoration project in the shape of a car I am sure none of you have heard of; an Ashley 750 with the intention on trying my hand at racing. I never completed that project and a nice shoe designer in Scotland took the project on; you can see his progress here.
So why then with all this hassle do I like cars? I have no definitive answer. It’s not the specs that interest me as I previously stated. It’s about the design, the glorious lines, the engineering ingenuity, the history, the racing pedigree.
Look at these lines;
I don’t know what engine these car have or what power output, but it is beautiful.
This monster is not beautiful as such but it is an amazing piece of engineering so very raw.
I saw them start that beast with a crank handle; you know that bent metal thing hanging out the front of cars in old Buster Keaton movies where the passenger hops out to start it and quickly leaps back in as the cars hurtles away. Have you ever started a car with a crank? It’s not that easy and sometimes the engine pushes back which can give you a nasty sprain. With this monster the crank handle is six foot long! If the 22 litre engine kicks back you need to be well out of the way else you will lose an arm or worse. I saw it kick back and it left a large dent in the tarmac. I just think wrestling a such a brutal machine along a piece of flat ground must be an amazing experience.
Although I’ve had my fair share of classic cars I’m not a polisher. You know those guys who clean and polish every inch and stand back to look, warning you against touching it. I’ve nothing against them, they look after their cars preserving them for the future, but that’s not for me. I own a car to use it, enjoy it for what it was built for and to see them used for what they were built for; like racing for instance. I wrote recently about a trip to Le Mans and I’ve also been many times to Goodwood. Both of these allow you to see and experience cars used to their fullest. Old, very valuable cars are raced properly like they should be, not paraded in pretend races, properly raced and sometimes crashed as they are taken to their limits.
And yet, after all of the above, in recent years since selling the Jensen and moving to the US I’ve had almost no interest in cars at all. Despite being part of a team in the UK just before leaving, where we built our own race car which has been pretty successful. I’ve walked around cars events and even museums, taken pictures but it’s more about the photo itself now , I don’t yearn to own any of them and even struggle to enjoy looking at them unless I see an interesting angle or shape. It’s like I left all that behind and now they are just pieces of metal that get people from one place to another. It is strange to me, images I took when I was very interested are still something I enjoy and perhaps they remind me of good times but recent pictures evoke very little emotion. It’s possible that with all that changed in my life, material things like that lost their value and now I value people and experiences more.
Some of you (yes, you who never cared for cars) might be thinking oh he’s grown up, boys with their toys and all that but I don’t think it’s that. I think it might be something to do with environment. I moved away from car friends and away from cars I knew. American cars don’t have the same history for me and so I have not really embraced them. So my interest moved on to other things I guess.
Writing this post makes me think that I was always and still am about being slightly different, being on the edge of normal, avoiding the mediocre and that was why I went for things, including cars, that most people didn’t. Average and common aren’t me; I don’t mean to sound like a snob it’s not the elite either. The odd and unusual and left field is where I come from so perhaps then my interest in cars does come from my father after all. Maybe his string of average sales executive cars that were common on the roads as I grew up made me want something different, made me want to stand out and (not be noticed as such) but be individual.