Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths – Chase is better than the catch

When nature calls you go running, on occasion you will have a thrill of excitement as you anticipate a game of what will henceforth be clunkily entitled ‘Toilet Car Budget Game’ (suggestions welcomed). We’ve all played the game and it continues outside of the smallest room at any opportunity whether we have or haven’t any money, and especially if we don’t need another car. The fantasy element is so strong that we can’t help but imagine that the cars we lust over on the pages will be far better than what we’re rolling right now.

The rules are simple: you set a budget and find the best car for the money that you possibly can. The simplicity of the game brings so much pleasure that it will never go out of fashion in all of time.

As with anything in life the next step down from fantasy is reality and the game takes on a different nature when you are actually looking to buy with a real budget and real passion for motorcars. I typed last week about the mind-boggling choice with which we are presented by many different types of media these days and this is but one of the factors in the cloud of car-buying that bears the silver lining of the end result.

If you love cars then you will also want a car you enjoy driving to the shops in the rain or commuting in as well as a good blat down a leafy lane. A lot of people are unburdened with being bothered about what they drive and theirs is a purely financial or fashionable choice, hence so many diesels and BMW Countrymen. These people play the same game but with things like houses, and businesses. Y’know, boring unimportant stuff like that.

This love of cars will also bear down on the buyer in terms of the underlining conundrum of imagining having bought one car and then trying to imagine whether they would drive it away thinking of the other car they looked at. What do you do then?! Now, many people have told me that I over-think life in general and cars are no exception to this. Everyone wants to make the right choice so this feeling or whether you’ve got it right must be a natural one, right? A car is usually a thing you want to keep for a few years, at least two, and enjoy.

It is at this point that we must consider Charlie Johnson. Our beloved editor is having the devil’s own job of finding his first car which he will own for himself. I for one was lucky as you may or may not know. But Charlie is beset on all sides by financial, spatial, familial, indemnity and sellers-honesty constraints. These are all tough obstacles to overcome but overcome them he shall – and with relative ease compared to his main problem: the amazing smorgasbord of options and choice which he has in the older and classic car world.

He’s been playing the tortuous game for some months now, it’s not hard to imagine that he was playing long before he was even in the market for a car. During this time, no doubt, he’d whittled his list of purchases down to maybe ten, or five. Anyone human should struggle to narrow it down further than that. Now the opportunity is there to buy literally any car within his budget, speaking as an onlooker and occasional suggester, it seems that the dreams held have been mildly shattered.

Unfortunately this is the aforementioned cloud which is the unwelcome accompaniment to the silver lining – your new car.

His ambition to own as classic and (crucially) as tax-free a motor as possible matches any I’ve known before. He will surely end up with what he wants, his eye is unerring and his dedication to the trawling of popular classic car websites is impressive. But what does he want! I’ve seen Austin Metros, a Ka, Rover R8s, and more recently an MGB GT pass through his twitter stream and no doubt the quest will continue, I am gripped.

At this advanced stage of the process where options have come and go and your fancies have wandered around the place with the logic of a typical human I would advise a bit of lateral thinking. Would, after exploring so many options which you may have dreamt of in the recent past, considering the left field, the outré, the ones you didn’t think twice about but really held no negative opinions against be any help at this stage? It might serve to realign your thoughts about previous options and help you revisit options.

The Toyota Carina A40, for example, is a seemingly nothing car but one which I was close to buying as a replacement to the Euro-box iteration I was driving at the time. It has clean lines, an interesting interior, Japanese reliability, and brownness like you wouldn’t believe. Would a Triumph of any kind be out of the question? The unloved Mk1 GT6, or a Spitfire? A friend of mine has run and loved the Saab 96 with its lovely little V4 engine, reliability, looks and rally pedigree. Only last night another friend was reminiscing about his Wolseley Hornet, what a lovely little car, and a passport to the Issigonis-based London to Brighton run which many people are enjoying today.

It is entirely possible that all of the previous suggestions may have brought a bit of bile to the back of our Charlie’s throat and a curse to his lips because no-one can tell anyone what to like. I do hope not, and I also hope to speak for everyone when I wish him all the best in his final choice – hang in there – the right car will turn up and you’ll just know it’s right.

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