Idle Eye 131 : The Herald Angel Sings

I’ve had the same car now for eleven years. It was a replacement for an identical one which had the tits ripped off of it, on a roundabout in West Dulwich by a woman who didn’t look right when she should have done, putting me in plaster for five months. Over which time I was compensated, lost my job, split up with my fiancée and oversaw the untimely death of seven out of thirteen gerbils who had made their way into my inner circle, euphemism fans. But the new car was astonishing. I could never have afforded her initially, it was only the accident money that made it possible, so I made a small promise to myself on the day I took her down from Fife, Scotland to her new home in South London:

‘Come what may, I will look after you, keep you going and perhaps if I do, there may be a ghost of a chance that we’ll be together until one of us snuffs it.’

It was a marriage of sorts. And yet, curiously, I am not a car person. I couldn’t give a monkeys about what goes on underneath the bonnet, and even less about performance, reliability and safety. All I care about is that she is a lovely thing that gives me pleasure each and every time I sit in the driver’s seat and if, for whatever reason, she gives me gyp, I just learn to put up with it or try to fix it. As many of my close friends will testify as they have towed me home in the small hours or watched, incredulously, as one of her wheels overtook me on the M40.

Over the years, I’ve had all the dull jobs addressed: New gearbox, new clutch unit, something or another to do with diffs (whatever they are), the pointless points (enjoyed that one), carbs and sparks and trunnions and God knows what else. Which you have to do or the bloody thing doesn’t work. But none of this stuff is visible: Kind of like paying an arm and a leg to get the drains sorted outside your house, when actually all you want is a cooker that says more about you than money ever can. The cosmetics play second fiddle to those hardcore kids in the playground built like pit bulls that always seem to get first dibs.

But not this time. I’ve been watching an arc of rust creeping across the bonnet for the last two years, and the hood frame above me decomposing and freezing me to bits on every journey. And those classic Old English White wheels that now look like they’re just home from the Somme. So I’m getting them all done. In one hit. And when they are, I shall renew my vow of 2003 and look forward to our next swathe of time together on the open road. Because in my humble opinion, a car is for life. Not just for Christmas.

Idle Eye 84 : The Carb Uncle

One of the downsides of owning a classic car is that people will insist on talking to you about it. Whether you’re underneath it, inside it or getting out, invariably you will be approached by an enthusiastic beardy type with battered NHS glasses, aching for a lengthy chat about horsepower, turning circles & the good old days when they made things proper. It goes with the territory. And for reasons completely beyond me, there is an unspoken presumption that you care as deeply about engines and distributors and carburettors and all the other stuff that gets greasy every time you look at it and ruins your good trousers because you thought you’d just have a quick tinker but it’s never quite that simple is it, as they do.

You can see them approaching a mile off, all dewey-eyed, drooling and preparing for their inevitable opening gambit:

Carb Uncle:  Used to have one of them meself, mate. First car, she was. Went like a rocket. And you could turn her on a sixpence. Lovely motor. Had her long?

Me:  About ten years.

Carb Uncle:  We got ours in…er…when did we get ours, Joyce?

Joyce:  1967. Our honeymoon.

Carb Uncle:  That’s right! ‘67 it was. Took her down the Costa del Sol, never had no trouble. Well, I say no trouble but you know what it’s like. Like to play up sometimes, don’t they? But the beauty of the old ‘uns is you can do the work yourself, right? Flip up the bonnet, sit on the wheel & get stuck in. Not like your modern rubbish. First sign of trouble & it’s all Computer says No! No way José! Tell you what, mate: I’d give ten of any car on the road right now for one of those. ‘Cos they made them proper back then. Right, Joyce?

Joyce:  Yes, dear.

Carb Uncle:  Lovely engines’n’all. Yours a two litre?

Me:  Yes.

Carb Uncle:  Twin carbs?

Me:  Yes.

Carb Uncle:  Strombergs?

Me:  Yes.

Carb Uncle:  Your Stromberg was the king of carbs, make no mistake. Tune ‘em to within an inch of their life, I should coco. Mind you, they couldn’t half give you strife on the long haul. Spent many an hour on the hard shoulder with a spanner or two in the jacksie pocket, ain’t that the truth, Joyce?

Joyce:  Yes, dear.

Back in the day, I learned to actively engage with these people. How I would laugh at the absurdities of modern vehicles. How I pretended to yearn for the golden era of motoring, when one could take to the open road in a car proudly manufactured in Great Britain, safe in the knowledge that it was almost certainly the envy of the developed world. But these days, I’m afraid I really couldn’t give a toss. Because if I give Carb Uncle the kind of time he’s after, I’ll never get the bloody thing sorted. And I’m off to France next week. So please, could you just piss off?