Monday, November 9, 2009

My cars: a short guide. Part VI - A massive Vauxhall Victor, a Simca, two 2CVs, naivety and a valuable lesson learned

The Vauxhall Victor, which succeeded my Triumph Toledo after that car’s sudden end, had only one thing in its favour: it was powerful. I can’t now remember how large the engine capacity was, but it must surely have been 2 litres. I bought it within weeks of the Toledo being written off - saying ‘writing off the Toledo’ would be inaccurate and unfair, as, for once, the crash wasn’t my fault - because the only legitimate way of claiming mileage expenses from my oh so generous employers was actually to drive the miles. Driving it, and sitting behind the steering wheel gazing some distance to the far end of the bonnet is the closest I have ever come, and the closest I shall ever come, to driving a Cadillac. If I remember correctly, the engine also made a deeply satisfying ‘vroom’ noise which spoke of power and purpose, and it surged forward slowly but surely and was the antithesis of all those little nippy 1 litre cars which rush around here and there rather like neurotic flies. The Victor, though,
had one failing: the heater didn’t work, and as autumn turned to winter that made travelling on as many trips as I was able to arrange in order to clock up the miles increasingly uncomfortable. It's not much fun spending hour upon hour speeding along the motoway freezing your balls off and no amount of buckshee mileage payments make you feel any warmer. When winter finally turned very cold, as it can do in Birmingham, there also came a disaster: there was not enough anti-freeze in the radiator and with the first frost, the radiator froze solid. And that was that. I can’t remember ever driving the Victor again. It was like the model pictured above, although mine was blue. (I rather like how the photographer has elegantly placed the Victor in a rural setting and given it a certain kind of rustic glamour. In real life, you would not find these cars sitting in a field but usually parked outside some pub in a more downmarket part of Nottingham. Actually, rustic charm is rather over-egging the cake. My first thought on seeing the picture above was why is that abandoned car looking so clean and shiny?)
I must now confess that my memory of the sequence of events and which cars I owned when is curiously hazy. I was still working for the CEGB when I bought the Victor, but I left in the early autumn of 1984 to start my photography course at West Bromwich College in Wednesbury, and the car I used to travel the 20-odd miles from my home in Kings Heath to Wednesbury (up the M5, a detail I add for those readers who like these accounts to have a more technical dimension) was my second Citroen 2CV. But before then I had two other cars, and at one point I owned three cars at once, although only because two of them didn’t run. I think the first car I bought once the Victor froze solid, and because I had to get to Wednesbury every day, was a Simca. This cost around £300 - a lot more in 1984 than at the time of writing this account 25 years later - and I thought I had a bargain. The ad in the newspaper classifieds said ‘no MoT’. No bother, I thought, very naively. I’ll get one, it'll only cost me £30. So I bought the car, took it to the garage and asked for an MoT estimate. £500. The car did not seem so much of a bargain after that, and the chap trying to rid himself of what was a pretty useless car had probably not believed his luck when I came along and handed over my money. So, I decided foolishly, I'll run the car without getting an MoT, but soon decided to scrap the Simca when I realised that the brakes were dodgy. On the long, multi-lane run-up to Spaghetti Junction and on my way to college one morning, I had to brake suddenly and almost crashed into the back of a builder’s merchant van. I realised I could not risk using the Simca. I should also add that I cannot remember transferring the insurance from the Victor to the Simca, so I was probably driving it uninsured, too.
At around this point my brother Mark came to live with me, and Mark was with me when I crashed my first 2CV. This was another wreck of a car but which I was too green to realise was on it last legs. It was also a rust bucket. I'd had it for a just week - and proud as punch not only to be owning a 2CV but because in some circles they had a kind of bohemian cachet - before it, too, was a write-off. Mark and I had gone for a drink and had argued. I was in a bad mood and was not taking the care I might while driving. Coming off a roundabout in Kings Norton - we were coming down the Redditch Rd. and turned into Wharf Rd., info for the techies among you courtesy of Google maps - we were approaching the exit of a pub car park - The Navigation Inn also courtesy of Google maps - when a car came straight out and I went straight into its side. My 2CV crumpled, with the front completely stoved in and the chassis warped. I wanted
to call the police (because technically the accident was the other guy’s fault) but the other driver tried to intimidate me by claiming he had many friends among the police based in Kings Norton and they would take his side and make out the accident was my fault. This annoyed me, and the three pints of cider I had been drinking worked their magic and I got angry. Then the other driver pointed out that we would both be breathalysed, and, for once, I was sensible. I let the matter go.
However, as far as cars were concerned I was still in a bind: three cars were parked outside my house, all of which were useless and I needed a car to get to Wednesbury every day.
This is where this account gets hazy. I bought my next car, another 2CV, but one in far better condition, after spotting it while driving past the forecourt of a Fiat dealer. (Which of my three cars I was driving at the time I cannot recall. It might have been the Victor with the radiator unfrozen, but it is more likely to have been the Simca with me driving uninsured. However, I really can't remember.) It was in a row of cars which had all been taken in in part exchange. The asking price was £999, but after looking it over I did something which, for me at the time was quite extraordinary. I asked the salesman whether it would come with a full MoT. He said it would. Then I thought to myself that I would offer him less than £999 and we would haggle. I calculated that I would at least be able to knock one or two hundred off the asking price. So I was about to offer him £750 when, on a whim and why I simply do not know, I told him I would pay £650 for the car. He told me he would look at the figures involved in taking the car in part exchange. He returned a few minutes later and asked: ‘Would that be with a full Mot’. It seemed to me that he was hoping I would relent on that point in the interest of getting a bargain. But I said: ‘Yes.’ It was not the answer I think he was expecting, but to my surprise he agreed.
I learnt a very valuable lesson there and then: in some situations, go for broke. You never know what might come of it, and often you have nothing to lose. I have never been the shy type (except occasionally with girls, though at my age - 95 in a fortnight’s time - I suppose I should start calling them women), but I do have a timid streak - which will be news to many, but I am not being disingenuous. But on that day, standing on the forecourt of a Fiat dealership on Constitution Hill, I fully understood the value of chutzpah. I trust and hope I will never forget it.

Footnote for those who cherish footnotes: astute readers, who are usually those who cherish footnotes and who can recite the Footnote and Related Appendices (Necessary) Act 1983 backwards, will have realised that I have not included a picture of a Simca. I haven't done so because I had the car for only a short time and it doesn't really feel as though it belongs in my collection of car. There is not bond. It was a ratty old car anyway and, most pertinently, our relationship being so short, I can't really remember even what it looked like, except that it was dark grey, and so can't find a picture. Sorry.

No comments:

Post a Comment