Brave One, Giles

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I bought a great wad of Weekend Daily Telegraph one Saturday, hoping to read what Doug Nye had to say about that BBC 1 Birkin motor racing drama, but it was the wrong edition. (I gather that Doug was not altogether kind about the debut of “Mr Bean” as an actor racing-ace — in real life I believe Rowan Atkinson once raced Renault 5s — and I am still wondering if he was as surprised as I was that the Producer allowed “WO” to invite Birkin to join him at Rolls-Royce, or the Birkin racing works to be culled from a shed labelled “Birkin-Paget” instead of the in-actuality fine workshops of Birkin & Couper, etc).

Having missed the film review I was seeking, the Daily Telegraph Motoring supplement fell out of that aforesaid paperwad. (Where does all the world’s paper continue to come from and will it run out before fossil-fuel dies?). Immediately a big solid head-line “THE £100 CAR” hit me. A slice of history I imagined, all about things such as the basic 1931 side-valve Morris Minor. the odd flat-twin friction-drive Waverley, the 2-stroke Seaton-Petter, the Clyno Century, dubbed the Clyno Cemetary, even perhaps the best and longest lasting of all these jolly-low-cost motors, the 1935 £100 Ford Popular saloon.

But no; this piece by Giles Chapman was about how you can, in impoverished, recession-hit 1995, motor in a car bought for that once-magic low, but now seemingly-optimistic, outlay. Brave one, Giles..! I read his page-long piece almost with nostalgia for a past when “banger motoring” was comparatively easy, translated into a 1995 possibility. For here was Chapman, in a great national newspaper, persuading people, hard-up young people one must assume, that it is OK to look for a £100-pounder and use it on the road.

Now I like the banger idea. All cars, however ordinary, have their place in history and should be saved. If this can be on the public highway instead of only in museums, fine I say. Chapman did it with a 1969 Ford Escort automatic, £170 with new battery and a quick service. It had a bit of tax and MoT to run… He was honest about how awful it is, yet he says his banger-Escort has “given me by far the most satisfaction-per-mile of any car I have owned”, but only for two months and 1400 miles before its write-up. (And I have no idea what other cars he has owned.)

But I still like the idea, although raising my eyebrows at indicators which “only wink if the engine is revved hard” and wipers defeated sometimes by a duff switch, as might police-persons. However, Giles found sympathetic coppers on two occasions when stopped for a defective headlamp. And was granted a no-charge repair by Kwik-Fit to a loose exhaust-pipe. Giles got the Ford insured Third-party for £215.

Warming to his theme, he quotes a few faults his £100 Escort developed and asks whether they might not also assail a G-Reg Sierra. Well, I have bored you from time to time with how reliable I have found modern Ford Sierra 4×4 hatchbacks; my present H-Reg Sierra’s only real fault in 60,000 miles has been a broken clutch cable. So £100 motoring sounds fun and almost practical.

I have friends who buy bangers, although more in the £500-plus bracket, replacing them every year or so. So why shouldn’t Chapman’s dream of Daily Telegraph youth getting out and about in, preferably he says, Escorts, Cortinas and Capris, or in loveable Chevettes and Vivas, Avengers, Marinas and Dolomites, Hunters or Talbot-Sunbeams (which I used to call Sunbeam-Talbots) come true? Could be fun, even almost practical, armed as he advises with tools, jump-leads, Coldstart, Haynes manual, etc.

However. I fear the odds are against it, Giles. I’ll tell you why. Today my regularly-serviced H-Reg Ford was waved into a local parking-bay by a WPC and given an emission-test. Six thousand miles since its last service, it was found to be just on the accepted limit. The next service gave it a clean emission bill. But I fear they are out to get you, Giles. To remove older cars from our roads — and never even think of those belching Power-Station stacks!

Some happy bangers may survive I hope. But how many? Brussels knows best, always? I fear.