Three score and 10

We are frequently being told that human beings are living longer and longer, in this enlightened medical and dietary age. Once upon a time you were told that you were on borrowed time after three score years and ten. But this has a less-depressing impact now. In my case, and I am bad at mathematics anyway, my next target is to make this sum work out to 90.

Notwithstanding the logic contained in the previous paragraph, two great establishments refuse to recognise the old-age population. One is the government itself. Every time the chancellor announces a cut in interest rates, he tells us these will be good for everyone – conveniently overlooking millions of the population who live on invested savings! (And were we not once told that a good citizen prudently saves . . ?) The other organisation which is fearful of ‘oldies’ is the insurance world.

In motoring terms, let me give you an example. The unhappy manufacturers of new cars have been using all manner of enticing means of trying to increase sales. Vauxhall, for example, cottoned-on to the scheme of trial runs in the latest Cavalier for potential purchasers . . . but not if the intending or interested customer had reached the fearfully senile age of 70. Learning of this, I wondered at first whether these fine cars were perhaps a trifle awkward to drive, so that the older citizens might possibly find them difficult, but surely not dangerous, to control? But no, as Liz Phillips, the support manager of Vauxhall Rental kindly informed me, it was their insurance company who had imposed this age restriction. There was a concession. If you were an ancient being who wanted to try a Cavalier, under this commendable ‘Factor 24’ scheme, you could produce an “excess deposit”, the amount determined by your age and the fierceness of the Cavalier you wanted to sample, refundable afterwards presumably providing the car was safe enough to be returned intact. But by then the complication may have seemed too much and the possible buyer could be on the way to the next showroom. It does seem rather a shame, based no doubt on statistics (which can be twisted to ‘prove’ anything) that insurance folk gang up against old drivers. There are many retired motorists who enjoy their cars, some who keep themselves active by using them between the ages of 70 and 80, and even on to 90. I would have thought that they could have been asked to produce a no-claims certificate and perhaps a doctor’s assurance of fitness to drive and been able to try ‘Factor 24’ unmolested.

There is a sequel to this. Lancia had a similar scheme, to let possible buyers drive the latest Themas. Even I was able to drive a two-litre 16v Thema Turbo. It proved a fascinating motor car, its engine quiet and smooth after the Ford Sierra I am used to. The Motronic engine-management system has certainly killed turbo-lag and the flow of rapid acceleration is impressive, 0-60 mph coming up in the seven seconds bracket. Despite the transverse engine, front-wheel drive layout, a Ferguson viscous coupling obviates wheelspin, although, with 205bhp (at 5750rpm) on tap, there is still a degree of torque reaction under cornering duress. The dodge of using twin counter-rotating balancer-shafts to make the four-cylinder twin-cam 1bi6-valve engine run like a six has been adopted, and the ruse works.

ABS braking, a stubby gear-lever for the five-speed ‘box, an easily-adjustable driver’s seat and smart styling are remembered.

I was pleased to note complementary references to Lancia’s rallying successes in its brochure, and that insurance problems did not, in this case, prevent my stint in this impressive car.