Friday 4th January 2013


Alex ponders those cars that seemed like a fantastic idea at the time...

I won’t lie: there have been quite a few snotters in my car history. Looking back through previous purchases, I’m struck instantly by how many of them have been ill-advised. It’s a back catalogue of poorly-calculated man maths and thwarted attempts to be sensible.

I should point out, before we go any further, that I’ve never had a great deal of cash to spend on a car. The most I’ve ever laid out on a single vehicular purchase has been £3,000, spent on a 1995 Jaguar XJR. And that car, in fact, brings me on to a very salient point: how, exactly, do you justify a poor car purchase?

Beautiful, but not cheap to keep
Beautiful, but not cheap to keep
You see, the XJR was, on the surface, a brilliant car. It was the right colour combination – Sapphire Blue with Ivory leather, it had a full history, below-average mileage, and at least 70 per cent of its original 331hp. It was also a vast amount of car for the money.

But shortly after buying it, I found there was a gearbox harness that needed doing. Then there was the supercharger belt that fell off, and then the electrical work that was required when the washer jets gave up the ghost. My Jag wasn’t really a hound, but it certainly needed plenty of upkeep. The final straw came when I had to move away from home for a new job; the fuel bills were simply too much, and a mere six months (and some pounds) after I bought it, it had to go.

Was it a bad buy, though? I loved it when it was working, and enjoyed the road trip of a lifetime in it when I drove it over to Austria in the middle of winter. So I got something out of it. I reckon that doesn’t make the decision to buy it a bad one; it’s certainly not something I regret, as it scratched an itch I’d had since I was a lad.

At least the paintwork looked nice...
At least the paintwork looked nice...
No, a bad car purchase has to be one that disappoints on every level. A car that proves not only hatefully unreliable, but which shatters those dreams we all build up in the days before we come home with a new car for the first time. And that honour must go to the exceptionally dubious Rover Vitesse I once owned.

It was while I was at university, and I’d been shedding around in a frankly hideous old Mondeo diesel for a few months. I was sick and tired of it, and on a cheeky eBay browse one evening I spotted the perfect (ha!) antidote. It was a Rover Vitesse, the turbocharged model, again dating from 1995 and finished in Nightfire Red. Lured by the promise of a 180hp-odd barge with fantastic sleeper points, I walloped in a bid for £400 and that was that. No, I hadn’t even seen it, and yes, I was young and extremely foolish.

Probably the sunset of this Rover's life, too
Probably the sunset of this Rover's life, too
Well, you can guess the rest. I got the train to pick it up, and decided that despite some rust, it was close enough to the description to part with my cash. But 20 miles into the journey home, it started doing some odd things – sometimes there’d be boost, sometimes not. I decided to limp it home and investigate when I got there. Of course, the process of limping it home destroyed what was left of the turbo. I managed to find a cheap reconditioned unit, but soon tired of its rattles and squeaks. Even good Vitesses are a bit ropey these days, and this one was not a good one. It wasn’t even very fast. So I sold it on in favour of something decidedly less horrible. The bizarre footnote to this story is that the man who bought it turned up to do so in a Mitsubishi Galant with various bits of trim spray painted gold, that he said he’d need to park outside my house for a week. He never returned. In the end, the Galant was carted away by the council on a hi-ab, and so ended the oddest period in my car buying career.

I could go on – I’ve had my fair share of shonkers – but I’m more interested to hear about yours, so I’m turning the discussion over to you. Let’s hear about your most keenly regretted purchases; the hounds that bay at you from somewhere in the darkest recesses of your memory. Meanwhile, the rest of us will sit here and, alternately, nod sympathetically or point, laugh and shout ‘What did you do that for?!’


Author: Alex Robbins
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