Feature: Finding that right car for the fleet

I’ve always liked to think there’s a bit of an art when it comes to finding that right motor for the fleet. For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to come to good compromise between the car I choose and the insurance that I’ve got to eventually fork out for. With whatever car I plan on buying in the next month, I’m sure there will be some hiccups, but that’s what motoring is all about.

Since last month I’ve been keener than ever to make progress on finding a car that suits my criteria and the Retro and Classic Cars slogan.  I shall admit there have been times when my initial criteria has been looking rather vague due to the spurting out of random cars linked to CarandClassic. The criterion is quite simple: Cheap to run, offers character where others don’t and will bring many happy years of motoring. Probably explains how I came to the conclusion that an Austin Allegro offers everything I’m after, with added eccentricity as standard.

An Austin Allegro Series 3 earlier

It was two to three weeks ago, on a Tuesday I decided to take the plunge by asking my dad to take me down to a used car dealer who is well known by our next door neighbour. I thought it would have been a good opportunity to see what was on offer, although I wasn’t too eager to get stuck into the two hundred and fifty cars the owner had in stock over two of his sites. Rather than becoming an afternoon looking around stock and trying out what was on offer, it was more of a case of glance and drive back home. It was far from a successful search.

Following the search I had taken with my dad, I’d thought I would keep on searching through with the usual sources such as Pistonheads, Autotrader and Ebay. There was the occasional classic that turned up, along with Mk2 Volkswagen Polos and Renault 5s. As with everything that has a plan and set date, something had to add to the mix. What kept on leading me astray? The location. As much as I don’t want the small variable to dictate what I buy, it would seem the further afield you can travel the more cars there are on offer. A niggle I still need to work my way around it would seem. I’ll persist locally, unless there is something that will sway my way drastically.

Dreams of  retro Renault 5 ownership

After the blast searching the internet, which did bring up some reasonable sheds and fairly solid classics I decided I would venture back to the dealer. Why go back you ask? Well, the first time round I hadn’t had the opportunity as such to give any a test drive.  On reflection at least, it would seem I shouldn’t have. The Ford Fiesta Mk4 I had glanced at the first I visited look on the outside to be sound, bar the rust on the arches. So pre-test drive I was looking forward to giving the shed a chance, even if it wasn’t what I wanted. Then the owner offered to take us out, which I was fine with until the passenger door card almost fell off as he opened the door. Not a great, I’ll admit. Still, I’ll  persevere with the owner as he apparently has a well-known reputation locally. We headed up the road, and he went through all the gears proving the car’s ability and to show that there weren’t any evident problems. All is going well at this point, so he pulls in at the pub and I take over. There were no obvious signs as he rightly said, the car wasn’t pulling to one side, nor was the clutch too excessive.

A Ford Fiesta MK4 (facelift) which probably isn’t Cat C

Once I had bought the car back, myself and my mother informed the owner that I’d think over the car until the Friday of that week. Most of the week was spent looking at more cars, arguably productive with no result. So I ran the Fiesta through Autocheck, pretty much the same as HPi for less. It turned what was meant to be a sound Fiesta was a Category C. Category C is when a car has repairable damage that totals to more than the vehicles worth. Now this led me to be quite concerned as it wasn’t mentioned when we were at the dealer. Was it not pointed out for a reason? Or did he happen to forget?

This soon led me to a lot of head scratching and questioning the worth of the owner’s advice. I spoke it over with the parents, as to get them off my back, but that soon led to more havoc. I’ll avoid that decision next time! So I was faced with potentially buying a car that had been involved in an accident of sort or similar for £795. During that last week, my mother stated to him that the Fiesta wasn’t as clean as it had appeared. What was the result? The owner claimed that my mum was lying and that it wasn’t true. He was soon proved wrong when he went through his own documents. Ah, sweet success at last. By this time I’d already lost interest in the car so was working out the best way to approach the sales bloke who would be there on that Friday. The owner happened to be out that day.

Friday came sooner than I had planned. We turned up at the dealer, to our surprise the VW Polo (6N) that I had looked at before but not in great detail was still on offer at a reasonable £995. The mileage seemed fairly genuinely along with the honest scratches and dents. From the visual appearance at least, this was a goer. As for as it being busy, well it was a bank holiday and we seemed to be the only signs of life other than the narked off salesman and his female associate. After giving the Polo the okay, we eagerly asked the salesman for the keys he was very keen to point out that it was ‘basic’. I know it was a bank holiday, but there was no need to point out the obvious. On turning over the ignition, the signs weren’t hugely positive. Firstly, there was a strong vibration of sorts and a rattling from the exhaust. Oh, and the speedometer wasn’t working which added to the problems. The quick run up the block revealed that the car wasn’t as solid as we’d hope, especially as the fuel gauge was almost showing empty on arrival at the dealer. We soon returned it back, far from pleased with the test drive.

I soon decided enough was enough for a day or two. So on the Saturday or Sunday afternoon that week I popped over to Triumph-lover Pete to catch up about his exploits. It turns out that his free road-bike (push bike) from a mate was somewhat too small, so was on the hunt for an expensive replacement. I took the opportunity to offer him cash for it, and ventured out on a bike ride to see if the road-bike was going to be suitable for me. Once out of Pete’s road I noticed a silver Ford KA on a fifty-one plate for £850 with twelve months MoT and tax for six months. At long last I was sure I was in the clear, the big break had come for finding the right car. Admittedly, it wasn’t what I had in mind but I could live with its perceived image as it would after be used as a shed. Later that day, I spoke it over with the parents. They did suggest something relative sensible so thought it would make sense to allow them to mince it over.

A cheap & cheerful KA, with engine origins that date back to the Anglia

The following day I called up the owner, who on first impression somewhat put me off by saying that it didn’t have a great deal of history, with the added caution of low mileage.  Given that the KA was local, I thought it would be worth a pun given it wouldn’t take too much effort to bring it home if it was a clean as it was priced.  Later that day I convinced my dad that the he should come along, for support mainly. The usual father son talk followed on route, on closer look the low mileage KA wasn’t as clean on the surface as I’d thought. As expected, the sills were rusting along with the wheels and it had an awful repair on the passenger side. I asked the buyer about the history and V5, as we headed towards the sellers house. We were welcomed by the sellers parents, who unsurprisingly didn’t know a great about the KA and showed up what remained of its history. That was the two Mot certificates and the registration documents. I’d found another lemon. The documents claimed it had covered over thirty-one thousands miles, but something wasn’t right about it. We left them with interest, much to my dismay and then went about taking a closer look at home. Bingo! It had been clocked twice. Autocheck comes up triumphs once again.

So here we’re now, the start of May and still not motoring. I’m still keen as ever to get started so I can take the opportunity of making the best of the sun for classic car events and meeting more like-minded enthusiasts.

Let’s hope this car searching doesn’t become a serve burden too soon. I’ve got plenty time, right?

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