Cars had always been alien machines to me when I was growing up.
My dad never drove, indeed I passed the test before he did. We were public transport all the way. If you’ve read any of these blogs, you will realise that my first job, after leaving sixth-form, was as a police officer in the Metropolitan Police. For somebody from my limited background, London was another country. It was rich, affluent and full of people who thought northerners were some prehistoric throwback. My strong West Yorkshire accent, that I never knew that I had, came under the spotlight.
There is such a thing called ‘upward convergence’ in linguistics that deals with people’s need to fit into the ‘prestige’ accent of a society or environment; mine was not ‘prestige’ and, like a collaborator, I began to change it.
To make the full transition from West Yorkshire lad to to ‘capital sophisticate’ I decided to employ the use of illusion; I used cars to create my new self.
The timeline of my car ownership has become a little hazy over the years. I have never, ever, owned a brand-new one, having always chosen to indulge in ‘motors’ (part of my new Sweeney-Cop lingo) that had a little ‘previous’. I had had a deeply moving affair with a blue-jeaned Renault 4 and had enjoyed that particular summer of love. Perhaps people mocked me for my strange choice, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the comforts of a gear stick that stuck straight out of the dashboard. Or, lest we forget, the deckchair seats, and the Clouseau-like wiper blades that often forgot to work. The encounter I had with the Jaguar was more like one with a cougar. She was altogether a case of fur coat and no knickers and our brief fling was just that.
To that point, all of my cars had been female.
What constitutes that? I don’t know (perhaps I wasn’t getting enough of the real thing back then, so I vicariously lived my life in cars). It was only when I bought the Triumph 1850 from a good friend that I realised that cars could be male as well. This is beginning to sound a little like the conversation in Spartacus that involves Tony Curtis and Lawrence Olivier, involving preferences for oysters and snails. Up to that point I had driven oysters, now I had a snail. But it was a snail that shifted like the proverbial ‘shit off a stick’.
In 1972, Triumph revived the old Dolomite name and brought out a rather surprising little motor (meteor) of a vehicle that became a favourite with those who wanted to show off what they had hidden away under their bonnets. Not as obviously sporty or glamorous as its show-off Spitfire cousin, the 1850 had pace to burn and it knew what it could do. It became a popular rally car even though its handling could be slightly skewed by its design oversight; it had a massive engine in the front of a not too massive car which meant that its rear-wheel drive would often send it into a spin if not properly coaxed. This car sent me into a definite spin. It was akin to being best mates with a middle-class maniac. I loved it.
That was about the time that I discovered my need for speed. It’s never become a dependency and I only ever do it under controlled conditions, but I do love the thrill of a racing engine, encouraging brakes, and responsive gear box. The Dolomite 1850 had all of these as well as having a walnut dash. It was to all intents and purposes a ‘doctor’s car’ with attitude.
Country road drives were a dream. The engine egged-on the accelerator, but the need to keep the rear of the car following the front was always likely to either, keep a note of caution in the glove compartment or have a willingness to ignore the fact that poor handling could result in the urgent acquisition of a funeral plan. The 1850 was particularly interesting in snow.
During my frequent drives back to my Yorkshire homeland (bit of a Viking thing going on there), I would try out its heels on the M1. Being a copper, I had developed a sixth-sense for the sneaky little hiding places that traffic police would adopt. It’s a sense that has stuck with me throughout my life. So, when I believed that all would be clear, I would floor the peddle and watch the speedo do it semi-rotation. We were both playing at being ‘bad boys’ whilst remaining dressed in some brief respectability; and that made it better.
Rebellion has always been my secret and t was one shared with this ‘doctor car’.
It is a fact of life that all good things must come to an end. I have lost some good friendships over the years mainly down to the attritional and evolutionary aspects of life in general. Nothing remains the same. And so it was that somewhere along our shared timeline, we lost contact and carried on along our own set destinies.
I never gave him a name. He never called me by my name. We were just buddies with a secret 1854cc of the overhead cam slant-four that Triumph had been building for Saab. At face value, we were a pair of respectables, but scratch the surface and we both growled.