It is a standing joke in my family that I have a fatal attraction for duff motors (as in cars). There is a some truth in that, but I would like to plead mitigation. Admittedly I don’t have much of a track record with cars, and, as I shall soon reveal, the little escapade of a several weeks ago when the starter motor on my ‘good’ car failed while I was in Germany and I was trapped for several days in a Bierkeller (or something like that) is not, in fact the end of the story.
Perhaps it would soften the rather critical view you might have of my facility with cars if I tell you that the world is firmly divided into two camps: those who will mortgage themselves up to the hilt, then borrow some more just to be able to buy the latest flash motor and cut a dash in town; and those who regard a car as merely a means to get from A to B in reasonable comfort, who always buy secondhand (which usually means fourth hand, of course) and who regard those in the first camp as living proof that fools and their money are always parted at the first opportunity.
Yes, I know the rationale that a brand-new motor, or one that is only a year of two old is less likely to break down, but I am certain that if one were to analyse the breakdown figures (assuming, of course, that you are bored shitless and really have nothing better to do), you’ll find that just as many new or nearly new cars break down as do the kind of jalopies I prefer to buy. OK, my kind of motor is perhaps more likely to suffer from the effects of old age, but how many times has a friend bought at top dollar, then been hit with some ongoing niggle or other which sees his car ‘in the garage being sorted out’ for longer than he or she has had the joy of driving it.
But what I am about to relate does rather undermine my argument.
At present I have three cars. My own, a V –reg (1999/2000) Rover 45 bought for £800 from Rob Gibbons of Davidstow (and at the time a bargain – he could have got a lot more for it); the car my wife drives, a 2005 Chevrolet Matiz which cost £1,600 and was paid for with ‘Ken’s money’ (and the tale of ‘Ken’s money’ can be told another time); and my ‘good car’, Ken’s old car, an automatic Vauxhall Astra Club, which might be a 1998 model, but which only had 38,000 on the clock when I took it over – and still only has 47,000 on the clock – but, more to the point, was ‘tidy’ as the good folk of South Wales say. It is in remarkably good condition, that duff starter motor notwithstanding. Ken had left it to my brother when he died and as my brother lives in deepest London and decided he had no use for it, he gave it to me. Nice brother.
The ‘good’ car is my back-up and will be my ‘first car’ when the Rover – already more than 150,000 miles on the clock – finally gives up the ghost. But that moment is, as you will agree in a minute or two, I hope still a while off.
About six weeks ago it was obvious she needed attention (cars, like ships, are always she. Why, I don’t know). Starting was becoming difficult and for the first four or five miles of any journey one cylinder was not firing.
It was off to the garage with her (though not Rob Gibbons, I have to say, because the last time he did something to her, he or one of his men, didn’t tighten the nuts on the nearside rear wheel enough so that when I was driving at 60mph down the M3 the wheel came off. It was partly my fault in that it had been making a hell of a racket but I assumed it was simply a
duff bearing and postponed having it seen to. It wasn’t a duff bearing.)
Time was once when replacing spark plugs and possibly the coil was a simple matter which could be undertaken by most idiots in an afternoon, usually a Saturday. But no longer. Now cars are so fucking ‘sophisticated’ that such simple tasks are impossible.
So it was off to the garage, Atlantic Motors in Camelford, who did the job while I waited, which rather impressed me, but which set me back £172. While I was there, Alan, the proprietor and the guy who did the job – replacing all four spark plugs and installing the new-fangled coils the Rover 45 uses – told me that it was high time the cambelt was replaced. It should really be replaced every 50,000: mine hadn’t been replaced for 100,000 and was showing signs of fraying. And if it did break, it was curtains for the car. So I had it replaced. It cost the best part of almost £300.
When a few days later I again broke down, checked the cooling system and found I was out of water, I knew, though I dared not admit it to myself at the time, that I had blown my head gasket. An expensive job, getting a head gasket done. But after spending more or less £450 in a matter of days and for one other reason I shan’t go into here, I decided to go ahead and have the work done. In for a penny, in for a pound. All I’ll say is that the car is back on the road, but getting it there has cost me more than I paid for the car in the first place.
So you might now understand what the phrase ‘fools and their money are soon parted’ doesn’t necessarily just apply to folk who get into goddam awful deep debt to cut a dash in the latest model. It might also apply to dicks like me. Only time will tell whether or not it does.