A decade of driving
As this decade draws to a close I thought I’d reflect back on the motoring changes I’ve experienced. As we celebrated the new millennium I was the almost proud owner of a 1992 Ford Escort estate. With a lusty 1.4 litre engine it could barely pull the skin from a rice pudding, but it was mine and I could deploy that 75 horsepower to take me wherever I chose. As this period pre-dates my digital camera ownership, I only have this rather sorry excuse for a photograph:
What a beauty! I upgraded those 13 inch wheels to – wait for it – 14 inch wheels. With extra driving lamps I ranged across the country – I shared my first trip to the Lake District and even nipped across the border to Gretna in this machine. It had manual windows and mirrors, no central locking, no power steering – not even ABS. Looking back this was useful, as it provided an excellent bare bones introduction to motoring.
Yet this wasn’t the only Dagenham Destroyer in my fleet – hell no! I was also the extremely proud owner of a 1990 SWB Transit – used to cart around my sound and light gear.
A real rust wagon – powered by a 2.0 litre petrol engine that offered neither performance nor economy. Whether I was in the Escort or the Transit, I was always seen tearing around the streets with all the apparent vigour of a tortoise with gout.
Having had the Escort since acquiring my licence in 1996, during 2000 I began to look towards moving on. I was driving my dad’s car occasionally – a Vauxhall Vectra SRi (pictured here in 2005 at the Nordschleife entry gate – an episode I’ll cover later).
Suddenly I had all the modern luxuries – electric windows and mirrors, 15″ alloys, air conditioning, remote central locking – even traction control. Perhaps most importantly for me, its two litre engine developed 136 horsepower, with – compared to the Escort – very useful low down torque.
2000 was my first year of full time employment, so as 2001 arrived it was certainly time to stop borrowing the Vectra, and replace the Escort. Being 21, my needs weren’t very complicated: I needed to be faster than anyone else I knew, I wanted it to be reliable, and I had heard that rear wheel drive was A Good Thing. This ruled out the Peugeot 306 GTi6 I was considering, and the Audi A6 Quattro that wasn’t pure RWD, so I got myself one of these:
This car introduced me to a whole new world of motoring – both on-road and virtual. It absolutely ignited my passion for driving (and perhaps, oversteer) and also introduced me to car internet forums. The latter provided a double-edged sword – such forums attract all sorts – but one forum in particular led to some absolutely fantastic road trips around the UK. The first of these was a visit to the Lake District in early 2003.
While all this was going on my sound and light business had outgrown the little old transit, so I “upgraded” to a 1992 LWB 2.5 litre diesel effort. Look how beautiful it was!
Okay, so it was an eyesore. But it did offer significantly more load space and payload, and with power steering and a classic diesel chugger it was far more the freight machine I was looking for.
Still, back to the cars. With almost 200hp and over 200 lb/ft torque at my disposal, in the 328i I was fast, it was reliable, and RWD was good. After two years though it was time to move on, so in February 2003 I took the next natural step: it was time for an M3.
Still to this day this has been my favourite car. 321hp, 258 lb/ft of torque and a proper LSD. I didn’t care that the interior was a bit manky, and I liked the fact that it was a saloon and not a coupe. I used this car a lot. I shared my maiden voyage to the Nürburgring with this car, multiple trips to Cornwall, the Lakes and Wales, and had an epic tour of Scotland.
Sadly I was separated from this car by a local garage who rather carelessly wrote it off for me in March 2005. While the insurance wrangle was taking place I once again took ownership of the old family Vauxhall Vectra SRi. Of course, this was quite a step down, but as a utility wagon it was very useful. The transit had recently died, I had wound down my sound and light business, so it was a good one-stop interim solution.
There was however a complication. I had a trip to the Nürburgring already booked before the M3 was written off. I therefore had to take the Vectra – a grim prospect at the best of times – but significantly more so given that its gearbox was obviously broken. I therefore fitted a refurbished item and headed to Germany.
In convoy with an E36 M3, an E34 M5 and an E39 M5 the SRi was completely out of place – an utter embarrassment. However, it redeemed itself with some massive lift-off oversteer:
All jolly hilarious, until on the way home the car once again spat its gearbox. Having to come home from Bonn on a flat-bed transporter is horrible, and the entire trip was perhaps the low point of my motoring decade. The Vectra therefore finally left the family, and I was car-less.
By this time Diane and I were living together, so we got by using her Peugeot 106 Rallye. Despite being of French origin I feel this little car was certainly good enough to warrant more than a passing mention in this post. It was light, had over 100hp, and developed a good chunk of torque from its little 1.6 litre 8V unit. So despite being a touch unreliable and a FWD scrabbler, it was a lot of fun.
We had this car from 2004 to 2009, so it certainly made its mark on our motoring decade. So, back to March 2005 then when I was car-less. After much research, I concluded that for the money I’d received for the green M3 I simply couldn’t do any better, and so bought another M3!
Rather than the all-I-could-afford green saloon, this was perhaps my ideal E36 M3 Evo. Techno-violet with heated silver leather – this thing even had electric rear vent windows! :)
I had this car for a year, ensuring it took in all the usual Cornwall/Lakes/Curborough/Nürburgring trips, and even a camping holiday to La Rochelle. At the end of 2005, we once again – but briefly – became a three car family. Robin and I invested in a £50 Ford Sierra Ghia for our charity “Staples 2 Naples” rally trip.
The car was of course horrific, but everything worked, and it didn’t let us down at all despite thorough abuse all the way from Woking to Naples. We scrapped it in Rome and flew home; something I really regret.
By early 2006, despite the M3 Evo being a fantastic example, I felt it time to move on from the E36, so I traded it in for an E46 330d sport touring. This represented a significant step down in terms of performance and a shift away from motorsport in general. Yet the new car was a lovely place to be, extremely practical and pleasingly efficient.
In our first month together we went to the Lake District, to Birmingham, to Wales, to Scotland, and to the Nürburgring – some 5,000 miles! I chopped off the droopy tail pipe and sorted some nice straight tips, and changed the wheels to the more recent items (more recent above, originals below).
As we leave this decade, this is now our primary family car. We sold the 106R in 2009 when it became a little too unreliable, and frankly basic, for our liking. We’re now married, own a dog, and this is our car. I write this article from the Lake District – marking this car’s 4th visit there with me. However, this doesn’t end my motoring decade review – not by a long shot!
I realised that, much as I love my tractor (330d, above), it lacks a certain bit of motoring soul. I filled this in January 2007 with the purchase of a 1988 E30 M3!
With a screaming straight four and LSD I was back in the M-club, and what a party it was. I loved it so much I decided in July 2007 to upgrade to a 1990 E30 M3 Evo II.
I held onto this car for another year, during which it featured in two BMW Car Magazine articles and two trips to the Nürburgring.
In amongst all this I decided to take up a spot of rally navigating. Pictured here with driver/owner Simon Stevinson, I spent a few shifts in 2007 in the nav-seat of his E36 M3 Rally Compact.
It was a great little car, and Simon an extremely composed driver, who I can’t thank enough for being so patient with me while I learned the ropes. I had a massive amount of fun in that car – we had many battles, and I’ve even got a trophy or two as a result somewhere. It was fantastic having to deal with the elements, and at times fix the car, to get us through to the end of the day. I would have loved to have taken the next step to driving and car ownership, but I sagely (and perhaps boringly) concluded that I couldn’t afford to allocate funds in that way.
Ultimately though, when I became married in August 2008 I decided that both rallying, and E30 M3 ownership, and all the oil and rust which was involved, wasn’t really becoming of a husband. I therefore packed in the rallying and sold the M3. Immediately I realised that in doing so I had lost much of my identity, so 4 hours later I rushed out and bought a nice sensible family car:
That’s right, it’s a 2000 E39 M5 – 400 horsepower to you. This basically brings us up to date – we’re a two car family with a wonderful E46 330d sport touring and a V8 M5. The 330d is a great utility vehicle. I’ve modified it to play DVDs on the move to entertain my passengers, it has iPod integration, stealth sub and a built in inverter. It’s a fantastic, quick machine, boasting 200hp and 40mpg. We love it, and it is backed up by a super saloon sporting an astonishing blend of performance and comfort. While both cars have been around the block a few times (both just under 120,000 miles), they still scrub up nicely and provide everything we currently need on the road. Oh, with the exception of four wheel drive – that’s my prediction for the 2010s!
This sums up my review of the decade. Throughout these years I’ve documented a good deal of motoring action which has, in some parts at least, been well received. I’ve even landed a regular slot writing for BMW Car Magazine. I’ve had an absolute ball these ten years thanks to my cars and my motoring friends. I can’t thank those friends and family enough for their support of my crazy ventures, and as my last blog post of the decade I’d like to thank you all for reading, and wish you a very happy new year. :)