I have always been into cars, and always wanted to be a rally driver, but my parent’s expectations for me tended to centre on academic attainment and not handbrake turns. Nevertheless, my first job stacking shelves in a supermarket allowed me to save up enough money (with a contribution from the Bank of Dad) to purchase my first car.
My dad being the sensible parent that he is, decided to take a trip to ‘that there Leeds’ where there were, he was sure, to be some bargains. So off he went… to the Ford main dealer. As it happens my brother also required a car to start his new job so my dad left the dealership having bought a Peugeot 205 XE for him and a ‘hearing aid beige’ Austin Metro City X one litre for me. 44 of Britain’s finest ponies lined up to be tickled into work by my right foot...
This car had it all, keep fit steering, four gears, rust, cold start problems and a stereo fitted by the men in black and orange. My boomtastic 60 watt speakers had been incorrectly fitted in the doors, so that the windows could not be wound down properly….. But that didn’t matter because the only music I needed would be coming from the 1000cc nestled up front…
Whilst most of my contemporaries used their free time to study macro economic theory, differentiation around the origin, or peaty gleyed podzols (eh? – Ed), I spent my free time reading car magazines and taking driving lessons - all the time, any time. Before school, after school, in my lunch hour, during my free periods. Getting behind the wheel was all I wanted to do.
The joy your first car brings you is down to the new found independence you now have - no more school buses, so many more friends, I was so popular. But for me it was the chance to try and emulate my hero Tony Pond. whose biggest success came in a Metro after all. Having found a nice gravel car park which was only a slight detour from my route home from school, I was able to practice my handbrake turns with ease.
‘Second gear, 10 mph, lift off, turn the wheel, and tug the lever, power, power!’ Feel the car glide round on a six-pence - perfect, or so I thought. However my sister, whom I had to give a lift home to, was less than impressed. And now onto left foot braking. I’d seen videos of Timo Makinen changing gear ‘without clutch’, and it was the same A series engine/gearbox – right?
So off I went in pursuit of perfecting the technique, - which ended on my first go, after spinning the car into someone’s front lawn, putting two big brown tyre tracks across the grass and stopping about a foot from the front door. Showing cool presence of mind, I calmly (it seemed) selected first gear and drove off in the opposite direction. I haven’t been back down that road since.
Of course during the year my friends gained their driving licences as well, and fellow PHer Soxboy was the first to challenge me to a race. His steed would be a 1.0-litre Talbot Samba LE, a fairly even match to my Metro, 45hp to my 44, and about the same weight. So one late afternoon after school we went out into the countryside and chose a quiet road to time ourselves against – rally style.
Soxboy went first, his interesting use of the brake would later be put down to old brake fluid, but unperturbed he did the ‘stage’ in 4m46s. A hefty challenge that I only just managed to eclipse - by a mere 55 seconds. I now race he doesn’t. Aaah to be 17 again!
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