Once I had past my test I was eager to get my own wheels, and I quickly found a green Hillman Imp at Three Ways Garage which I loved, as of course I had happy memories of my the one my dad owned. We took it for a test drive and it was awful to drive, but I didn’t mind as I wanted it. But Dad had one trick up his sleeve – the engine test. Apparently the Coventry Climax Imp engines where notorious for having cracked and leaking cylinder heads, and an easy test was for engine oil in the water – manifesting itself as think orange scummy foam in the top of the radiator. And there it was. Dad flatly refused to let me buy it thank God, and quickly scanning the Chad found a local private sale of a Austin Mini 850. As in 850 c.c. I had seen bigger motorbikes. It was £400 and the next problem was money. My dad’s brother (Uncle Len) kindly agreed to give me an interest free loan, and I paid him back a small amount each week, ticking each payment off in a little notebook.
So, I had my first car – AWE 568G – funny how you always remember your first love.
I filled the small tank with petrol at 50p a gallon (Yes, really) and in the couple of years I had it Sue and me clocked up thousands of miles. A regular favourite was afternoon tea at the motorway services. which if course these days you could just NOT afford anymore.
It had its moments, and caused a few arguments (a story in itself), but we loved it, decked it with lush brown fur and had an R2D2 stood in the back window. But for the main we probably pushed it more than we drove it…
When the mini failed its MOT and we had no choice but to scrap it, dad came to the rescue and gave me his Marina, as he could get more off of his next car by not having a part exchange than he could with it.
I loved the car, I already knew it from top to bottom, and we kept the car for the next couple of years, but eventually it too became a burden, and we decided to upgrade to the latest model Marina 1700. A big mistake, with its aluminium cylinder head, we experienced yet again the cracked cylinder head and big bills.
As we couldn’t afford holidays we purchased a small caravan which we towed for a year or too – it went to the Isle of Wight where we decided it was time to think babies. and shortly after our first born came along. The car was rotting badly in line with most British Leyland models, and a cheap respray gave us another year but eventually it went to the scrapyard. And we were without a car. And with a mortgage taking nearly every penny we had, and a new baby in the house, it looked like we were staying that way.
The next couple of years found me back on the bus, but even that became too expensive and I saved literally a couple of pounds a week by walking to work, all the way from the brickworks on Sandhurst Avenue to Rainworth.
An opportunity came along when I got made Quality Manager for the company, and at the time all managers had company cars. My boss at the time didn’t like that idea and decided not to push it, telling me if I didn’t like it, find another job. He knew my position but the pay and perks differential was more important I guess. Anyway, we couldn’t cope anymore on the poor wages and walking through rain and snow to get to work, so I applied for a job in Tamworth, and got it – Sales Rep’ with company car. I handed my notice in, and my boss was shocked I had taken him at his word. He went to see the owner and came back with a new pay offer and a car deal. It was all I needed and to be honest the drive to Tamworth would have been horrendous. To this day though I wonder what direction our lives would have taken if I had taken the job.
But true to form my offer of a car was suddenly off the table when I had given up my new position, so I had to go to see the owner myself to complain. He allegedly knew nothing about the car offer, but to placate me gave me exclusive use of a company jeep. Which was OK as it didn’t qualify for car tax, but had no back seats. By then the twins had arrived and they would sit in their double pushchair in the back with the eldest, hoping the pushchair brakes kept them from going out the back door. Stacey would sit on the wheel arch, clinging on to the buggy and the back of my chair. Most unsatisfactory.
This was a vast improvement and at least I wasn’t walking to work anymore, but the seating was far from ideal for babies, and on one occasion we were going on holiday and I asked if I could take the pool car instead, a Austin Montego Estate that they had going spare.
This was much better for us and on my return I convinced the owner that I really needed a car not the van, and as they had just sacked the Quarry Manager they had another car, A Citroen BX, going spare which he gave me, and I got my first taste of company car tax. But it was still a damn sight cheaper than running your own car.
We had this a few years and unfortunately yet again we encountered the cylinder head issue,this time making us endure a long, long journey in a recovery truck back from North wales.
It was at this point I confronted my boss again and reminded him I was supposed to get a new, reliable car, not the leftovers – I was doing a good job and being short changed compared to the rest of the staff with cars. He reluctantly went back to the owner, but came back and said there was no car forthcoming. Yet again I found myself pleading with the director in the office, and yet again he said he knew nothing about it. He agreed I was a manager and deserved the manager’s allowance for a car – £16,500. That didn’t go down well with everyone, but I was happy and went out and ordered my first new car, a Ford Mondeo.
but taking the BX in for it’s last service at the local Citroen garage, I found a car under a white blanket waiting to be launched. And I persuaded them to lift the blanket. And there was my next car – the all new Citroen Xantia. With my £16,500 I had enough for a mid-range, and the automatic I had always drooled over. A stroke of luck occured when Ford said they couldnt meet the delivery date so I promptly cancelled and ordered my Xantia. It was also the start of a slippery slope, as my boss felt that we shouldn’t have the same allowance and the differentials weren’t enough for him. So my days were numbered.
We picked our first new car up the same week that our American friends came to stay, and they got carried around the country in luxury for two weeks. Even now, I love the shape of it.
Now in the system, my car was changed every four years, and the budget increased with inflation. My next allowance was £17,000 and my next stroke of luck was when Chrysler launched their Voyager in the UK – I had already driven a Plymouth Voyager in Florida and when they came out over here, we had to have one. It was a little over budget but I negotiated with the owner and he let me have the demo 2.0L model. Needless to say the kids loved it and it did a few long trips including France while we had it.
My company split in 2000 and no surprise, my boss was happy to let me go with the other half that was setting up as a new venture. That worked out fine, and lucky for me again, the new boss was happy to continue with the same car policy, and a new allowance of £23,500 got me the latest top of the range Peugeot 605 – possibly the nicest car we have had to date. It was amazingly equipped for the time, and drove like a dream. We had seriously fell in love with luxury driving, and this was getting as good as we were likely to get.
As much as I loved it, they discontinued the model and the next renewal left us searching around again. The desire for another trip to France nudged us back towards Chrysler and we purchased our second Voyager, this time a 2.3L SE, but even with the larger engine and built in DVD player for the kids in the back, it just didn’t have the power that the 2.0L had, it was horrendous on fuel (luckily for me I wasn’t paying) and the car tax was through the roof.
Not surprisingly with the changes to car tax for the employer, my long run of company cars came to an abrupt end, and we had to lease our next car – we couldnt afford another Voyager, and honestly didn’t actually want another, so we hunted around for a new car. The new Peugeot 508 was just out, but not a patch on the old 605.
Then one day we called at Toyota, saw the Avensis, sat in it, and had to have it. We didn’t test drive it – just sitting in the seat holding the wheel told me it was going to be a great drive. My first 6-speed gearbox, it took a bit of getting used to, but it truly was a great car to drive. But not quite as luscious as the 605.
The Avensis was a nice car, and we would have contemplated another, but after five more years, the lease cost was beyond us, and for the first time since my first daughter was born, we were looking at buying our own car. A daunting experience. We had forgotten how.
Our love of luxury was getting the better of us, and every cheap car we sat in left us underwhelmed. We drive long distances and couldn’t face it in a small cheap runabout. And anyway, we shouldn’t have to at our age? Why were we suddenly going backwards?
I was hanging my nose over a Jag, Sue was looking at more practical options, but we couldn’t find the right car. One night (well actually 2 in the morning) I was checking every car on the Available Cars website. I knew what I wanted. Diesel, 2.0 Litre, leather seats, loaded with goodies, and preferably automatic. And there was nothing. Until I found it. A Volvo S80, dark blue, and cream leather, like the 605. Auto, low mileage and 2 Litre. And in budget! I had once looked at the S80 before but it was way over budget, so this was an unexpected bonus.
I told Sue the next day and booked a test drive in Castle Donnington. We drove 5 miles and fell in love with it. As did my mum, the grandkids, and anyone else who has sat in it so far.
So here I am – Volvo owner complete with personalised number plate – but forget the jokes, the drive is immense, it’s like #### of a shovel, and I wouldn’t swap it for anything. Well, almost anything. I’ve just seen the new S90, which perhaps will be in Available Cars when we come to swap in 3 years time…