Cars

Over 50 years of driving I’ve had the pleasure of owning a variety of vehicles. There was a time when I would think nothing of spending my weekends repairing cars that were hanging onto survival by the thinnest of metal. I still enjoy driving but the cars have become more reliable and faster. For a timeline view of our later cars click here…

I bought my first car when I was at college – an ex police Morris Minor which had a dodgy clutch. I remember spending a Christmas break at my brother’s house in Bedfordshire with the car rolled up on scaffolding boards and bricks whilst in freezing temperatures we removed the gearbox, replaced the clutch and thrust bearing. It was so cold our fingers stuck to the metal parts. Happy days! In the final months of college I had to wrestle it all the way to the scrap yard as the steering seized up and the wheel bearings rattled to bits.

The replacement car was a Mini van that had more holes in the bodywork than a colander. The floor in the back of the van was becoming separated from the sides and had to be brazed together (the metal was too thin to weld) and the engine frequently overheated. I recall standing in a petrol station whilst it was being refueled and I scratched a bit of paint on the front wing only for my finger to go right through and get stuck. I filled the hole with a rubber grommet so it looked as though it had once been an aerial hole. It was a nightmare vehicle and didn’t last long.

We were both teaching so we could just afford the luxury of a Triumph Herald convertible.

It was easy to maintain and fun to drive even if the hood was a bit fiddly to take down and put back up again. The wheel bearings needed to be replaced on a regular basis for some reason.

The¬†Triumph Spitfire was our first sports car. It had the same running gear as the Herald and so was an easy step to take but it was totally impractical in terms of one car between two people and giving lifts to friends. From what I can remember we didn’t keep it very long.

 

Whatever possessed us to buy a Morris 1000 pickup is beyond me now and looking back made no sense at all but it seemed a good idea at the time.
It was rebuilt by someone we knew in Weedon, Northants. He did the major welding and body work; Jane and I painted it and cleaned up the engine. I can recall spending a Sunday afternoon replacing a half shaft that had broken. It was cold and wet but I needed it to get to work the following day.

The Hillman Imp was our first new car. Jane loved the colour and I think this is the car she learned to drive in and passed her test.

The aluminium engine was a bit of a problem with water leaks after a few years and I don’t we ever sorted it completely before we sold it.

The 2CV was another new car. A crazy vehicle with a flap under the dashboard to allow air to flow and a gear stick that needed to be pulled and pushed in a most unnatural way. Jane loved the car but hated driving it. It was possible to easily remove the rear seats if you wanted to sit around for a picnic. The suspension was very soft and it wallowed around corners. The 2 cylinder engine barely accelerated so the idea of a 0 – 60 acceleration time was immaterial. A real character of a car – love it or hate it!

We went through a very boring phase of car ownership when we seemed to be purchasing Fords – An Escort, Orion and Fiesta Sport.

They were practical, reliable and they allowed us to have a car each at a time when I was teaching in Daventry and Jane was Homeless Officer at South Northants Council.

For a while Jane had a Fiat Uno. I think she was influenced by the fact that it had an econometer on the dashboard so she could drive economically. In the end it proved to be such a pain (it drove me nuts) I stuck a bit of black tape over it so we could ignore it.

I hadn’t left teaching long and had to go away to Derbyshire on a course for three days so I drove up there in the Orion and Jane was very concerned about me driving all that way. While I was away she managed to smash into a roundabout in thick fog at Towcester and squashed the Uno by a centimeter or two on one side. surprisingly it wasn’t a write-off and once it was repaired we soon sold it.

And then there was the BMW 318i. I loved this car for its raw power – it was the most powerful vehicle I had ever driven at that time. It did have its foibles such that if I accelerated too fast in the wet the back end would get very lively and I found myself driving sideways down a major road in the middle of Northampton. It also had this quirk of just stopping and then refused to start. I would have to wait an hour before it would start again. I only found this out when I called the RAC and by the time they arrived I just turned the key and it started – most embarrassing.
When we started ballooning we wanted a vehicle that could tow a trailer and be capable of off road activity.
The Suzuki Vitara filled the role very well and Jane loved it.
As my main crew person when I started to learn to fly she enjoyed following me and I was always pleased to see her and the Vitara bounce onto a field after a landing. Car and driver never failed me!

Sadly the Vitara wasn’t sufficiently chunky. We were used to driving the Ballooning Business Land Rover Defenders so we decided to buy a Land Rover Defender 90. It was uncomfortable and the fuel economy, even for a diesel, was terrible but it was great off road.
It towed our balloon trailer back and forth across Northamptonshire for a couple of years before we decided we needed a bit of comfort.

Sticking with the Land Rover theme we then purchased the Freelander. A good workhorse but very dull. It was sold before it gave us too many problems (Land Rovers are notoriously unreliable).

 

 

At some point we owned a Mazda MX3 but the exact timing is a little vague (must have been when we lived in Rothersthorpe). It was Jane’s car and she loved it. Amazingly zippy with a rev counter that when higher than any car we had owned.

 

 

Nobody can have a real love of cars until they’ve owned a VW Golf GTi. Our black rocket was our pride and joy for a few years. Fast, furious and an iconic vehicle.

This was Jane’s car and she really enjoyed driving it. She was never reluctant to put her foot on the accelerator and speed around the country lanes of Northamptonshire

The high power and poor fuel consumption of the GTi made Jane feel guilty and with her desire to save the planet she set her heart on something smaller and decided, after enjoying the VW experience, she wanted a VW Lupo. She still managed to zip around but it didn’t have the panache of the GTi so she didn’t have the same feelings about it.

The Audi TT was a gift from my brother. I was so proud to own it and the driving experience was superb. No matter how fast I threw it into a corner it went round like it was on rails. One winter after an unusual snowfall when the town was all snarled up with traffic I drove home on impacted snow and the 4×4 TT didn’t slip or slide. It was like driving home in slightly damp conditions. The most sure footed car I’ve ever owned.

Our ballooning required comfort and so we upgraded the Freelander for a Honda CRV. It was comfortable, reasonably economic and had a large a boot.

 

 

I think it was around this time we had three cars. The Honda CRV, Audi TT and to add to our stable we bought a Smart Car. It was Jane’s pride and joy. Everything about it suited her – colour, economy, sliding roof and it was very distinctive. She loved it so much we then bought a brand new one.

Although she had a choice of colour she still wanted it to be personalised but with the new house build and other pressures of time we never did get round to it. In the spirit of positivity she even test drove a new one whilst she was undergoing chemotherapy. She actually thought the new one was too large and didn’t want to change.

After the Audi TT I decided to buy a Porsche Boxster. It didn’t handle the road quite as well as the Audi TT but it had the growl to the engine and the qudos that made it special.

I only kept it for four years until I retired and then I decided, despite Jane’s protestations, we needed to move on to something more sensible.

The Skoda Yeti was definitely a change (step down) from the Porsche but its 175 bhp diesel engine and four wheel drive made it very responsive. It had the power to pull a balloon trailer across rough terrain and very comfortable.

It did us very good service and I was still driving it for 10 months after Jane died. It was at this point I decided to move on and sell her Smart Car and the Yeti in a single Trade in deal.

After much deliberation in October 2016 and many test drives I eventually decided to buy a Mazda CX5. A large four wheel drive car with all the luxury and gadgets of a Range Rover or Jaguar FPace but at half the price. Its 180 bhp diesel engine was brilliant. It was also the first automatic car I had owned. A great car for doing long haul journeys and it took me to Scotland many times in the three years that I owned it. I covered close to 40,000 miles and only had to replace the front tyres.

While driving the CX5 was fun and practical I wanted something that was going to raise the adrenalin a little. Bring some excitement into my life.

I bought a Lotus Elise. There was a knack to getting into and out of it and it was impossible without the seat being pushed back as far as it would go. I also had to swing the door as wide as it would go and effectively fall out. Apart from the inconveniences around getting in and out there were few refinements. It did have a stereo system but it was impossible to here the radio over the noise of the engine. It accelerated like lightning because the body was light and the small Toyota engine revved very quickly. Another down side was the road holding – great round corners but hopeless on bumpy roads when the steering wheel wanted to tear itself out of my hands. After 12 months of adrenaline rushes and 5,000 miles I decided it was a younger man’s car.

The Lotus had to go and I decided to buy the most popular sports car in the world… the Mazda MX5. I opted for the RF version which had a hard retractable roof. It was a comfortable sports car with plenty of acceleration. It had the power to easily exceed the speed limit and held the road well although I could lose the rear end on roundabouts in the wet. It never felt really sporty. It had all modern gadgets – satnav, bluetooth etc. but after three years I decided I’d had enough and contemplated whether I really needed two cars.

After the CX5 I decided to slightly downsize and lose the diesel engine but keep the advantages of four wheel drive, automatic and comfort. This led me to buy the Mazda CX30. It is very comfortable and has all the gadgetry one expects from a modern car however the user interface for the satnav is terrible. It doesn’t have a touch screen and you have to select destinations by rotating a wheel around an alphabet on screen. It does have Android auto but even that interface is limited without a touch screen. I will keep it for three years but probably won’t buy another Mazda.

Having driven for a while with only one car I had a yearn to buy another Porsche Boxster. I spent several months debating as to whether I needed/wanted a second car and looking at the best model to buy. Did I want to spend £30k on a five year old car or half that on a low mileage 12 year old car. Eventually I decided on the latter. I looked and waited for months until I discovered this one and collected it mid November 2020.