That time of year

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Andrew Frankel

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My dogs are so tuned into me that if they see me donning a pair of trainers, wellies or walking boots, they will leap to their feet in anticipation of the walk to come. If it’s brogues, deck shoes or slippers they won’t even raise their heads. We used also to have a ram who appeared to know when November 5 fell, because that was the day each year we’d re-introduce him to his wives. I’d go to the field where he’d normally be found aimlessly munching among the castrati who kept him company, yet without fail on November 5 he’d have detached himself from the flock and be standing to attention by the gate, ready, willing and able to do his biological duty for the next generation.

And yet these dumb animals are not the only members of my family governed by such Pavlovian forces. I am too. Every year at about this time I am gripped by a strange craving. I’m not saying that this is the only time I am so afflicted, nor that it is an impulse that cannot be resisted; even so now, more than at any time of year, I suffer a raging desire to go and buy an old car. It was a result of this feeling last year that I now own a 1958 Citroën 2CV, while the year before accounted for the 1965 Fiat 500 in my shed. This year’s, however, is different.

If I’m truthful with myself, I don’t just wake up on February 1 wanting another old car. The feeling creeps up on me over the course of about a month. I think it’s set off by the start of the new year but can be controlled at least in the short term by the need to earn some money after the Christmas break, all the salt on the roads and the knowledge that it would be some months before I’d be able to enjoy whatever it was I was thinking of buying. But there’d always be something, always a car itching away at the back of my mind. And then something happens to bring it to the forefront of my mind. I think it’s the snowdrops. I think the sight them nosing bravely through the frost are to me as wellies to my Labradors, the trigger that suddenly turns a distant itch into an irresistible urge.

But this year there was no itch. There was nothing I could remotely afford that I genuinely wanted. So many cars I’ve lusted after have become so valuable of late I can’t even consider them any more, a fact I find immensely relieving. I must, I concluded, have achieved my own rather modest form of automotive nirvana: the shed was full and there was nothing else I wanted inside it.

Which is why I never saw it coming. Not once in the 20 years since I stopped testing them did I ever think my life would no longer be complete if I did not share it with a Porsche 968 Club Sport. One of my closest friends has a Porsche 968 Sport which is the same car plus a very small number of minor luxuries, yet when I’ve seen it I’ve never thought of it as anything other than a nice car for somebody else. But then, during a routine browse of that menace that is the Car and Classic website, I saw an ad for a low miles example. The price was sky high, but it costs nothing to look. And as I flicked through the images, the memories came flooding back.

It was a car with the same Racing Yellow paintwork that I drove to the Nürburgring in 1994 for my first ever encounter with the McLaren F1. I can remember Jonathan Palmer seeing it there in the paddock, grabbing the keys and flinging me around the track with such gusto that I promise there were times he was out of opposite lock before the conventional turn in point for the corner had even arrived. He was absolutely amazed by its balance as, by then, was I. For reasons I can no longer recall I had then to drive it to Innsbruck. But the return was unforgettable: alone, through the night and at a steady 150mph while I thought I could get away with it. I remember too passing a ‘Bobby Ewing’ Mercedes 500SL soon after dawn, seeing it respond and then smoke start to pour from its engine before it could draw level. Either unknowing or uncaring, its driver pushed on until suddenly there was no more smoke and he slowed very rapidly indeed. I fear there was no more oil left in his engine to burn.

And now I recall that if you liked poise more than grip, throttle response more than raw performance and pure feel more than point to point pace, a 968 Club Sport – a Clubbie as we all called them – was one of the greatest Porsches ever made.

What makes this all so damned inconvenient is I can’t afford one, have precisely nowhere to put it and don’t even really know what I’d do with it if I did. But the cravings are blind to such observations. The fact is I want one, and in the face of that, what place is there for rationality? If you know where a nice example might be available for the right money, you will let me know, won’t you?

 

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