Tell the story of your life in unreliable old bangers, they said. Alert people to the dangers of buying ageing motors that nobody else wants, I was told. The problem is: I can’t. Mostly through good luck, my old cars have tended to be paragons of reliability.
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Since saying goodbye to finance and depreciation, I’ve never looked back.
OK, that’s a lie. I do occasionally look back, if only to check for clouds of blue smoke and streams of lost fluid. But would I go back to new cars and shiny dealer showrooms? Absolutely not.
I’m not entirely sure when I fell for the charms of rusting hulks and the nervous times spent in MOT waiting rooms, but I can probably trace it back to my childhood. While my friends had posters of Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches on their bedroom walls, I was more interested in the mundane, the ordinary and the… well, devastatingly dull.
My collection of Matchbox and Corgi models consisted of Renault 5s, Ford Escorts and Citroën Dyanes. And to this day, my handpainted Dinky London taxi remains the quickest car ever to navigate the playground gutters of New Milton Junior School. I trust somebody has erected a blue plaque in its honour.
Today, I guess I’m living out my childhood fantasies, but on a grand scale. Grand in a sense of size, not the choice of car. I’m going to find it easier to fill my dream garage than those who have chosen cars attainable only after a lottery win.
It all started with a game of Charades
I wasn’t always destined to fall for the lure of a good banger. Having bought my first car – a 1982 Daihatsu Charade XTE – for the princely sum of £30, I steadily made my way up the automotive ladder. The combination of selling cars for a profit and a savings account meant I was able to upsell until I could afford the only car I have bought new.
It was a 2001 Ford Puma and – aside from the depreciation and the fear of picking up the first stone chip – all was good in the world. A Racing Puma soon followed, as did a Vauxhall VX220 and VX220 Turbo. All good cars and definitely not eligible to be filed under the tag of unreliable old cars.
Then, for reasons involving a mortgage, children and a move to the country, I stopped landing on ladder squares and began encountering snakes. The cars became increasingly less valuable, with a nearly-new Skoda Octavia vRS sold for a Honda Accord Type R and then a Volkswagen Corrado VR6.
Pirate Black and leggy Swedes
At this point it all starts to get a little bargain-basement. I can’t remember the precise circumstances, but a sudden need to find a cheap car led to the purchase of a £500 Honda Accord 2.2i. It was finished in various shades of Pirate Black and it was clear that something (or someone) had been killed and placed in the boot.
The electric windows only worked on Tuesdays, the air conditioning was useless at conditioning and the cruise control didn’t cruise. But I adored that car. Squint hard and turn off all the lights and it had the look of an Accord Type R, while that 2.2-litre engine was an absolute peach.
I was hooked. Fears of car park dings, stone chips and depreciation were problems for other drivers. I felt safe in the knowledge that even a catastrophic failure would result in a loss of no more than a ‘Monkey’ and a trip in an AA van.
It obviously helped that I was driving a Honda Accord, unofficially the most reliable car… in the world™.
The Accord was sold and replaced by a 1990 Saab 9000i, unofficially the most comfortable car… in the world™. I’d class this as one of, if not the most satisfying car I have ever bought. It cost £450, and I travelled across the entire length and breadth of the UK in it.
I won’t pretend Saab ownership was an entirely fault-free experience, but over 14,000 miles and 14 months, it never really grumbled. An erratic idle was cured by a second-hand air flow meter; a CV boot and a pair of number plate lights were required for the MOT; while a new water pump cured a loss of coolant.
General wear and tear stuff in a car that cost less than the option of heated seats on a modern executive car. And this particular Swede even had bum warmers of its own. It was great and I believe a non-turbocharged 9000 is one of the best value used/retro cars you can buy.
To be honest, I shouldn’t have sold it. I look back on that decision with some regret, not least because the car has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. But the combination of the Accord and 9000 had got me hooked on cheap cars.
Dream garage for the price of a Dacia
I’m unlikely to ever buy new again. And I doubt I’ll ever spend more than £3,000 on any car. Spend a few minutes trawling the classifieds and you’ll be amazed at what you can catch for a few hundred notes.
Today, my fleet consists of a Mercedes-Benz W123, Corrado VR6, Citroën ZX 16v and Citroën AX GT. It’s possibly a little extravagant to own a fleet of four cars, but the quartet was assembled for less than the price of a Dacia Sandero. And, touching mahogany, they should at least hold their value.
I also own a 1982 Honda Accord, bought for less than the price of a good night out. It has sailed through two MOTs without so much as an advisory and only threw a hissy fit after being left in storage for the winter. It’s about to be sold, as funds are required to keep the other members of the fleet in good running order.
Finding love in a hopeless place
My job allows me to drive some amazing new cars, but I always look forward to getting back behind the wheel of one of my older cars. Partly because they’re mine, but also because I revel in their relative simplicity and levels of engagement.
It’s no coincidence that – when thoughts do turn to new cars – I tend to follow Rihanna’s principles of finding love in a hopeless place. While others drool over the latest performance car or supercar, I look for the undiscovered gem, often the cheapest car in the range.
Does this make me a little weird? Quite possibly, but I wouldn’t change things for the world. I love my ‘unreliable’ old cars and would wholeheartedly recommend that £500 Honda Accord or Toyota Avensis you’ve been looking at in the small ads.
But be warned: you might become hooked on undesirable and unfashionable motors. I know I have. I’m just sorry I can’t provide a tale of breakdowns, failures and financial ruin.