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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The cars of my years

It's 1982 and I'm desperate to pass my driving test (second time).  I'm working as a reporter for BBC Radio Devon and they are annoyed that I didn't tell them I couldn't drive (they didn't ask me). Plus I need my own wheels to drive to Milton Keynes from Plymouth to see David Bowie.

Thankfully I passed, and my first car was one that had been Dad's, "Daphne the Datsun."  Now I don't believe in naming cars - it's so girly! - but this red Datsun 120Y was passed down the family and always referred to as Daphne. I paid £2,000 for her using a car loan provided by the BBC.

Daphne was relatively trouble-free except for stalling when you gave her too much choke  (a lever that you pulled out to enrich the petrol mixture, or so my dad said). Plus she needed something mysterious called an alternator, and I got ripped off by Chico's Garage for installing said mysterious device.

My younger brother inherited her after me and some years after he'd moved on to cars anew, he kept seeing her trundling round the streets of Plymouth.

Here's Mum standing proudly with the Datsun and also (blast from the past), Dad's car of that time, a Citroen with a space age suspension:

Next up came one of my all-time favourites, a Ford Escort 1.3L. It was an unusual metallic blue and I was very proud that I bought it with my own money, buying it from dealer Sopers of South Brent. Here it is parked in the Radio Devon car park:


I didn't have the Escort for very long and moved on to a red second-hand Ford Fiesta which had belonged to a vicar who had only driven around 8,000 miles. This one I had for a long time and it did a lot of mileage because at one point I was commuting weekly between Plymouth and London.

Speedy Gonzales

In 1990 I had a new job in London and with it my first company car. At first I had to have one from the pool and it was not a head turner by any means, a red Peugeot 309, but a few months later I was able to order a car of my choice and I decided to stay with a 309 but a GTI in dark grey with a red stripe.  It still wasn't a head turner but at least it looked fast. My most memorable moment in that pug ugly car was driving along that dramatic sweeping dual carriageway that goes up towards Winchester. It was sunset, and another car exactly the same as mine appeared, and we drove side by side, fast. It was thrilling!

The car below was not mine but dates from the same year.

Two years later I had moved to a new job in Newbury and was able after a few months to choose a new company car. Until then, I mortifyingly had to drive an aubergine Astra from the pool. Colleagues described it as a retired headmaster's car.

The Sofa Years

The car I chose was a Renault Laguna, a brand new model out that year, in red. The "sofa on wheels" years had started. The photo shows a Laguna Mk 1, but not mine.


Reader, I liked the Laguna so much I had another one two years later in British Racing Green.

I then joined my current employer in Swindon and after a few gruesome weeks with a car pool vehicle, a Renault Espace  (ideal for a single woman about town....!) I chose yet another Laguna. This time in black with a spoiler. Mean! But still a sofa when all's said and done.

A Ka for Munich

Three years later I was moving to Munich for 18 months so gave the Laguna back. In Munich I had a company car better suited to the narrow city centre streets where I lived: a Ford Ka. The fleet administrator was quite bemused by my choice because everyone else drove a Beemer (BMW). But the Ka was ideal for squeezing into tight spaces - perfect because I didn't have a parking space or garage.

My next car was indeed a Beemer, which was surprising given that I'd deliberately never had one before because I thought their drivers were ignorant show offs. And, very unusual at that time in 2000, I bought it "online." I chose the spec online and it was ordered from the BMW dealer in Maidenhead, where I was moving from Munich. But in those days you couldn't actually pay for a car online so the agreement was faxed to me (how quaint).

It was a black 318 compact in a  "sport" variant. I have learned to my cost that this typically means bucket seats and a very uncomfortable suspension.

This was the first time I picked up a car on new registration day and I was given a bouquet of flowers. I was so excited.  The model below is similar, but wasn't mine.


After the baby Beemer came a succession of bigger models starting with a 330D in topaz blue, with my added extra of a CD changer; a black 330D and finally in 2010 "the Tank," a space-grey 5 Series with fancy wheels and huge sat nav screen. It was the same price at that time as a 3 series so it seemed a no-brainer to have it, although when it arrived I realised it was HUGE. Although the emissions were small.

The old gentleman who drove it round from the dealer showed me how to set up my phone and memorably said "Oh you've got a Blueberry."  A type of berry anyway.

Plenty of room for all manner of items

The Beemers were all hugely reliable and had a lovely "thunk" noise with the doors. Plus loads of space in the boot for trips to the tip and storage of stiffs (if needed).

Men aren't very nice to you when you drive a Beemer, however.  They're all determined to cut you up and tailgate you, particularly men in white vans. The car below is my actual model, with the registration plate clumsily inked out at J's insistence.


By 2014 it was time to give the Beemer back and I decided to stop having company cars. The tax and emissions situation doesn't make them viable unless you do a lot of mileage, and I don't.

In 2014 I chose a white Volkswagen Golf GTI, having decided to have a smaller car, and J "specced it up," adding different wheels and sat nav with a huge screen so that I don't have to wear my reading glasses. I loved that little car from the start and now I'm getting another one, but in red. J attempted to "spec me up" by trying to persuade me to have the limited edition sport version, but, ha! I won't be conned into one of those again. He's still trying to get me to use "the paddles".

Below is my current car being delivered - it's the only photo I've got. Must put that right!

So that's my life in cars. There's nothing on the list to make Jeremy Clarkson's heart beat faster, but my opinion of him isn't printable so who cares?

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