Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths (Dawning Of A) New Era

There are an awesome amount of vehicles on our roads today. Even when you narrow it down to personal vehicles from commercial you find that 39% of households in the UK have two cars and a lot have even more than that. I’d not realised the extent to which this is true until I took a job at a vehicle rental company four years ago. This company had roughly 3,000 cars on its fleet in the Midlands alone which is amazing again once you realise that the branch at Los Angeles airport alone has this amount of cars at its disposal at any one time.

So we have a lot of choice which serves us well because everyone has their different needs, tastes and, beyond taste, budget. Now I’ve owned (two) and driven (countless) enough crappy cars in my time to be able to discern what is and what is not a quality product and a good drive. Rarely do the two meet but I am lucky to have found my beau in the E30 model range of 1980’s BMWs. Before we come to that, however, you must suffer a brief history so that you might understand.

The Rover 213i ‘Cheesewedge’ which I ran for several years was a 50/50 car in that the running gear was Honda and so the gearbox and engine were great for an ‘E’ reg but it was clothed and built by Rover – so it dissolved into ruin. I loved the precise short-throw gearbox and the responsive (if small) engine and that it did indeed take the two of us, a house tent, and attendant home comforts to the top of Scotland around and down again in brilliant style. However the Rovery-ness of the thing was its downfall and we scrapped it with 55k on the clock.

Then came a ’92 Toyota Carina E which was good for a naughty top speed, economy like you wouldn’t believe, total invisibility to thieves, genuine comfort and reliability. I loved and hated it as I did the Rover but for the simple fact that it was a nothing car. It was a waste of money and time for me because I love driving and the sensation of a great car under my seat. This was sold to some gentlemen on the doorstep after failing an MOT and is currently trolling around the Black Country somewhere, resurrected in the name of a quick quid.

The Toyota couldn’t match the E30, even on its merit of ecomomy

At this point my luck changed and a friend’s parents were moving back to Africa and were scrapping their two BMWs, an E34 518i and an E30 318i. The E34 was a genuine write-off but the E30 had tax and a test on it and was offered to me to drive away! I couldn’t believe my luck. These things I knew were cool and above all had the legendary M3 at the top of the model line-up so there must be something good in the base models, right? Obviously the car ended up on the driveway with my name on it and a eureka moment brought itself to bear: finally, a car that drives like I want it to, it pivots around your hips when you turn, the pedal box has room and a hinge on the floor for the throttle, the gearbox knew what it was doing and the rear wheels did the talking. Sweet relief!

This happened just after I took the job at the rental company and the world of brand new cars was opened to me for the first time ever. Now there are good cars and bad cars whichever way you turn on the roads and after a year working there it was clear that my 20 year old Beemer was only beaten in terms of general quality by vehicles which were similarly German but cost twenty grand at the least. This sounds crazy because the 318i kind of did stutter every now and then, there were dents combining with rust, and a steering wheel from the Cutty Sark – but it’s true.

Next on the scene is my current 1988 E30 325i Touring with 171k miles which I actually bought with my own money for once. I’ve had this car for 2 years now and have done roughly 20k in it since, taking it on a tour of the Scottish Highlands, through the Yorkshire Dales, through a deer at 70mph in Wiltshire (and getting it fixed up nicely by a talented lad in Stourbridge) and moving house with it twice. Every time I walk away from it after parking I take a peek back at it, having parked it in such a way as if it were in a photo-shoot. I’ve never done this with any car previously. It still has the majority of the 171bhp it was born with, looks great in a rich malachite green, has the correct wheels, fog light pack and headlamp wash-wipe system which all adds up to a classy look, it also sounds amazing, handles better than so many modern cars and is nicely fast.

The drama here is that the ongoing cash crisis which is unfortunately affecting more than 90% of the people of this country, let alone the rest of the world, did in fact cause me to list my current baby on a popular classifieds website for vehicles. The intention was indeed to downsize and economise with the interests of being able to keep food on the table and I breathed a huge sigh of resignation as the advert went live. My dad said ‘You’re doing the right thing, son.’ (or something equally Hollywood) and was kind of smiling at me with a distinct hint of Schadenfreude in his eyes. That was unpleasant. Anyway, there it was – listed, ready to go, it was a shoe-in to get the asking price, and I was gutted. Constantly reminding myself of why I was selling it. ‘You’re going to get a nice little Fiesta with one of those little typewriter engines, or a lovely little Renault 5! Yes, a Campus! That’ll be fun to tootle about in! Maybe pop a motorbike engine in when you get a bit more money…’

This sense of sacrifice gave me an immense feeling of pride which was compounded by the interest which the advert was generating. The first my wife knew of the E30’s impending sale was when I got telephone calls and I was describing it to the inquirer. She was silently impressed and kept her cool when submitting her own inquiries as to why I had decided to sell it. After turning down a couple of idiots who had either misread the advert or were trying to offer me ‘500 nicker’ there was one candidate and he just needed a couple more pictures which I couldn’t do as the car was in Stourbridge once again with another genius of a man who was sorting an oil seal.

Build quality beats the flaws of such humble Rovers

During the week it was away my Dad loaned me his Mistubishi Carisma, the car they deliberately misspelled in order to give it some but actually accentuated its inherent worthlessness. This was exactly the kind of non-car I was considering replacing the E30 with. The seat brought pain into my body, the gearbox was a soul-crushing guessing game, and the handling required clairvoyance and the general feel of the car literally depressed me. It was a relief to be able to deliver it back to the parent’s house knowing I was to return to the driving seat of a real car. A car designed and built properly in the first place, with no pretence to charisma or anything else for that matter. The only cloud to this silver lining was that it was still for sale in the public domain. So I returned home to sunny Berkshire.

Have you ever had a scales-fell-from-your-eyes moment? A moment where your shoulders slump in relief while your heart simultaneously leaps for joy? A moment of pure reward and relief which you will not forget and in fact be able to tell where you were when you felt it? Well I have, and it was when my wife said: ‘You don’t have to sell it you know, you love it, it makes you happy! It’s worth it.’

Wow. I pulled over to the side of the road, pulled out my generic smartphone device to access the Interwebs, promptly deleted the advert and continued our journey with a warm feeling around the Tech-1 steering wheel and a spring in the pedal-box. All six cylinders rang out a tuneful round in celebration.

Last weekend it rewarded us with a 33mpg average on a 600 mile trip including an hour and a half of hot and dry Dales-driving.

The future is now bright. The vast selection of cars to choose from is ‘limited’ now to ones which are dynamically better than average and thankfully there are people out there who do not care about what they drive which leaves my conscience clear to keep pursuing my interest in proper motor cars.

You can’t beat an icon?


One response to “Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths (Dawning Of A) New Era

  1. It’s obvious why you love her. Next time you’re in the dales please take advantage of the scenery and get some more pictures! Oh and awesome read!

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