I had my first driving lesson on my 17th Birthday, and after what was way too long to spend driving a Nissan Micra, I finally passed my test and set about my master plan of spending the two grand my parents had carefully saved to help get me started at university on the fastest thing I could buy. Unfortunately one thing stood between me and that Opel Manta - insurance. After spending hours trawling through Parkers and Autotrader, I concluded that the fastest car that I could buy AND insure was a Renault 11 1.7 TXE. I’m sure that was the first choice of every new driver at the time…
The two guys selling the car were perhaps the dodgiest-looking people I had ever seen and, thinking back, everything screamed ‘don’t buy this car you fool’ louder than someone shaving with a lawnmower. The fact that this fantastic piece of French automotive engineering was exactly the same as the taxi James Bond smashes in half in A View to a Kill, and also had double headlights that resembled a DeLorean had nothing to do with my scant regard of the bleedin’ obvious. The car wasn’t even registered to the Neanderthals selling it, but with blinkers well and truly on, and self-denial set to max, we had a test drive and I managed to convince myself that this was the one and that a non-working fuel gauge would not be a problem. My dad was not convinced, but being so fed up of being dragged half way around the world I think he decided to let me learn by my own mistakes, even if it was with my university fund. £700 for the car. £800 for the insurance. Ouch - but I had a Bond car!
The fun began rather quickly. Within days all the dash lights came on with the ignition, and stayed on, along with all the gauges rising to the top. Switching the headlights on created pretty patterns – but at least I knew that the fuel gauge wasn’t faulty. Obviously with the electrics going mental, my first priority was to go out and buy a new radio cassette from Tandy to replace the non-working original....
The next ‘issue’ I discovered was that only the left front brake was working. Unfortunately I discovered this whilst having a new driver moment - overtaking a moped in the streaming rain, a bus pulled out, and slamming on the brakes I found myself sliding along the tarmac. The only way to stop the car from mating with the bus was to swerve into the kerb. Luckily I managed to find a replacement wheel at the local scrappy for a fiver (I hadn’t checked there was a spare) – but replacing the leaking brake cylinders along with the worn pads and discs was considerably more expensive.
The fun didn’t last that long though – one summer evening as I maxed the car along a deserted back road, there was a crack, followed by a bang, followed by no power – obviously the correct course of action was to continue rolling down the hill, still at considerable speed, whilst trying to jump-start the car. Unfortunately this approach probably bent the rest of the valves that had initially survived the cam belt snapping. £700 lighter and it looked like student poverty was on the way, only to be confirmed a few weeks later when my Bond car developed a smoke screen Q would have been proud of. Unfortunately my dad wasn’t quite as proud and was not prepared to bail me out this time. Whilst I saved up for the new clutch, my uncle came to the rescue with his rusty old Fiat Panda 45 – a car that had its already pitiful performance reduced when it was converted to unleaded – but that’s another story.
By now, having to commute for 2 hours a day to uni, as I couldn’t afford accommodation, never mind a social life, I quietly dropped out of education and my first car finally ended my state funded life of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
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