Under the new gaming laws, the postmistress in Shed's village has been forced to hand back her one-armed bandit with the £100 jackpot. The £2 machine that has replaced it does not meet Shed's thrill seeking requirements, so he is looking around for other routes to dangerous fun.
He could try giving Mrs Shed a compliment, but his stab-proof waistcoat still hasn't come back from the armourer's after the last time he tried that. Luckily, this week's bargain basement bolide is a lower-risk way to fulfil Shed's gambling needs.
It's a Mazda6 MPS saloon, the hottest Mk1 Mazda6 and indeed the hottest Mazda full stop when it came out in 2006 at a price of £23,995. MPS stands for Mazda Performance Series and, despite the somewhat underwhelming visuals, that acronym is well deserved here. The key points of the 6 MPS are all-wheel drive and a turbocharged intercooled 2.3-litre MZR DISI four, pumping out 256hp at 5,500rpm in Euro spec (US cars, which went under the Mazdaspeed name, had about 10hp more) plus 280lb ft of torque on demand from 3,000rpm. The top speed was 150mph, the 0-60mph sprint time 6.6 seconds, and the claimed average fuel consumption was nearly 28mpg. Good numbers for the age, and livable with even today.
The first 6 MPS didn't garner much praise for its steering, but apart from that and its dowdy, even catfish-like appearance, it quietly impressed those UK muttering rotters who turned out to try and crash one at the very slippery Castle Combe launch, where the Active Torque Split differential would have been delivering 50/50 power front and rear.
Shed seems to remember something weird about the handbrake on pre-production MPSs, which reputedly disengaged the stability system (deliberately) if you tugged on it during a hot lap, giving you a degree of driftability. Shed has no idea whether that ever made it to production cars, or whether he imagined the whole thing. Sounds a bit like an accident waiting to happen, but no doubt brand specialists will pop up below to set the story straight.
Anyway, the launch journos liked the car's pleasingly snappy six-speed gear change and throttle response, the excellent driving position and the unflappability of its stiffened (but not too stiff) chassis, buoyed by the limited slip differential in the back. Despite the hacks' hamfistedness and the relatively narrow 215 section tyres on the Mazda's 18-inch wheels, most of the cars made it out of the circuit under their own steam, quite an achievement for such a poky car on such a tricky track.
You don't see many MPSs around at any price these days, let alone for the £1,200 being asked for this 111,000 mile 2007 model. Generally, an entry-level MPS will be much nearer to £3,000, and you can easily pay £4k or more for clean low-milers that may well be sporting the popular 300hp remap.
Admittedly, our Shed is a saloon, so from a styling perspective it may not score maximum points. Indeed, some might call it pig ugly, especially in this bland silver shade, but for optimum body rigidity - a thrill Shed has long since forgotten - a saloon will generally beat any hatch sibling. Well, you can say that in the pub anyway.
So, where's the gambling element that Shed craves? There it is in the second line of the succinct ad: "timing chain needs replacing".
Don't panic: the chain is not bust, as line one of the ad tells us that the car is still in daily use. Most likely it will be rubbing against the cover, something this engine is kind of known for. Often as not, it's the VVT actuator at fault. A kit including a new actuator, washers, tensioner and chain (which can stretch) is available at around £400, but there'll be labour on top of that. Special tools are required to set the timing. Even so, Shed reckons this car is good value at anything under £2k all in.
Shed's heat-seeking (and indeed heat-creating) Amstrad PCW 9512 has been able to extract the reg number from PH's secure info vaults, and from that he can tell you that it is good news on the MOT front, with no advisories recorded on last August's test certificate. By the evidence of his rheumy old eyes it looks clean enough other than some light scuffage on the n/s rear wing.
Shed has a soft spot for this understated Q-car, especially as it was designed by a Brit, Peter Birtwhistle, who went on to play a big part in the development of Mazda's 'Kodo - Soul of Motion' design language. It's an Evo without the aggression, an Impreza without the ramraider persona, and a massively underrated motor that will do a nice job for the family PHer who enjoys springing surprises on other road users.