It's a Guy Thing

Into my car

from Recaro seats to conversations with my dashboard…

I am not by any stretch of the imagination a petrolhead. I have never attempted to change the oil, or replace an air filter, and I always fuck up a windscreen wiper blade change, although to be fair I once swapped a set of spark plugs and have changed a couple of wheels in my time. Yet having passed my driving test nearly forty years ago cars have been a mainstay of my life and as I reflect upon the bangers, the beauties, and the beasts cumulatively they provide a fascinating record of my own social history. Changes in circumstance, including the relentless aging process, children, financial restrictions, and monetary muscle have not only shaped my life but my choice of wheels as well. I also acknowledge that my catalog of cars has been influenced by my personality and appetite for risk. ‘Why fucking not,’ has been a regular feature of my ultimate vehicle selection. On one spectacular occasion, this purchase became a, ‘what the fuck has happened’ and literally changed my life forever. Perhaps like the 1988 Billy Ocean classic, “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” my own dreams, aspirations, and achievements have been, in part, wrapped up in my adult life choice of car especially since I have never been without a motor. So here is my commentary of life narrated by a series of mechanically propelled motor vehicles that are a testament to, perhaps, the notion that you are what you drive…

1981, heralded my marriage to the motor car. Having passed my driving test first time, I was chomping at the bit to get my own wheels. My Dad’s Fiat Mirafiori, the trusty stead that I had run up hundreds of miles in during my learner days, was the occasional option but was it really the epitome of chick-pulling power? I think not. Brown, as most Fiats were in those days to blend in with the rust, it was still our family car and I was itching for something more symbolic for my coming of age. And so, through a chance conversation with a work colleague of my Mum’s whose boyfriend was selling his car I became the proud owner of a dark blue 2.0L Ford Cortina. And an estate too! What the fuck was I thinking? It was like a hearse. The previous owner had put in some upgrades, with the Recaro bucket seats being the deal clincher. Coupled with the ship size steering wheel, it was like getting into the cockpit of an F-15 Fighter Jet. The sunroof, which often leaked, just added to the aerodynamic feel of this monster which accelerated like shit off a shovel. I was a young cop living in single quarters above the police station. The older soaks decided to form a drinking fraternity and my role was, you guessed it, driver! Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was never as prominent in my life as it was then and the need to fit in, be one of the lads, and form new bonds was the powerful trigger which had me accepting my new responsibility with eagerness. The only drawback was I couldn’t drink, much. So, the routine of six, sometimes eight, passengers became the benchmark. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with copious amounts of alcohol poured into the mix? One Sunday evening on the A308 southbound out of Maidenhead, I don’t know who was more surprised, the cyclist I passed with room to spare or me when I saw at least four bare asses mooning out of the generous estate windows. This car had the potential of ending my career before it had really got off the ground and I began to think that I needed something more appropriate. As I pondered the choices some days later, I pulled sharply away at a roundabout and as I selected second the gear stick came away from its mount allowing me to see the tarmac below. My mind was made up. After around twelve months of ownership, I put the “Frat Wagon” up for sale and made fifty pounds on the deal when a plumber bought it. “I’ll be able to transport a water butt in the back of this!” he said. Yes, I thought, there have been a few butts in the back of this motor already.

I had become attracted to the Ford Capri. Influenced by the police again since about five or so cops had one too, including my tutor constable and idol Andy Gray. With my eight hundred and fifty pounds burning a hole in my pocket and a few hundred more from my parents, no doubt celebrating the absence of the motorcar equivalent of RMS Titanic on their driveway, I picked up my Ford Capri. CJD 116V was truly sex on wheels. It’s the only index plate that I can recount to this day. I sometimes struggle to remember the kids’ birthdays but not the mark of this Queen who stole my heart. The light blue Mark 3, 1.6L bullet of a dream machine was pure class. The diminutive sports steering wheel begged to be caressed and the view was dominated by the deliciously sculptured bonnet that curved towards the pair of hypnotizing double front beams. The engine purred like a seductive, experienced, and energetic older lover who only had the hots for this inexperienced twenty-year-old. Flushed with the confidence this marvel of glorious engineering brought, I plucked up the courage to ask Theresa O’Mahoney out on a date. The gorgeous young typist at Bracknell Police Station who everyone fancied, was consistently shielded by her elder guardians Sylvia and Ann. So, when I sat next to her at Sylvia’s birthday party, I spluttered out my desire and to my utter amazement, she immediately said yes to the Cocktail Bar in Windsor. The rest, as they say, is history as we got married and had two amazing children. I wasn’t expecting that! Being 6’2” the view over the convex canopy was unhindered but in fairness to Theresa at 5’2” it wasn’t the easiest drive. Letting go of one lover for another didn’t hurt. Many years later I carried out a check on the police national computer and discovered that she had been repainted red and scrapped on the Isle of White. That hurt. I should have rescued her!

Then followed a couple of unremarkable and mediocre Ford Escorts. The first was bright red with white sports wheels. The appearance cloaked the engine which, even after a decoking, would chug on for some time after being turned off and the doors being locked. Trading this in for a newer, low milage model I had effortlessly slipped into the Bermuda Triangle of car ownership where elegance, excitement and ego had been sucked into a whirlpool to be replaced by dependable, dismal drudgery. It did, however, possess the safety pedigree we demanded for our first-born, Lucy who sat in the back in her car seat which required an engineering degree to properly fasten to the now standard automatic locking retractor seat belts. The arrival of Adam three years later nudged the next domestic car change and with it brought back a little excitement.
The brilliant white Ford Sierra Classic was a family-sized car oozing elegance. The complementary white wheel covers and the traditional flat boot as opposed to the hatchback gave her an air of superiority and for once I enjoyed the Sunday routine of the carwash, standing back to admire the gleaming reflection of the sun with my beaming smile. Thank you Ford for synthesizing enforced maturity and passion. But this relationship was a Greek tragedy waiting to happen. My femme fatale left me without warning, leaving me heartbroken and confused. OK in reality some bastard stole it from the Skimped Hill car park, Bracknell when we were, as I recall, in a nearby supermarket buying a handful of essentials. As the true gravity of this occasion took hold the misery of losing my favorite leather jacket and my Howard Jones cassette tapes only added to the blackhole of gloom. Although the insurance company paid up in quick time I felt compelled to gather speed toward any white Sierra I saw both on and off duty in the vain, but hopeless chance that she was still in the locality. A few months after the theft a colleague informed me that there had been a spike in like vehicle thefts attributable to an organized eastern-European criminal gang who were ferrying them over to war-torn Kosovo. From early 1998 to the cessation of hostilities in June 1999 I would attentively watch the news reports still with the faint hope of seeing her emerge from the smoke of battle, slightly battered but nonetheless proudly exhibiting her undying radiance.

You have probably guessed by now that I am somewhat a creature of habit, and I kept the Ford tradition. Another Sierra followed, this time a bigger engine and laden with electrical gadgets, but this was a reluctant purchase, and my heart was, for the time being, elsewhere. It was green with brown upholstery too.
On becoming Ford Mondeo Man, I really thought that I had kissed goodbye to forming any more than mundane relationships with cars. The kids were growing up and reliability, safety, and space had become the key drivers. Yet little did I know that my next vehicle marque acquisition would literally change my life forever.
For a variety of reasons, I had begun to fall out of love with the police. My time at the Force Training Centre had allowed me to reflect on what life meant to me and the realization that climbing the ranks wasn’t necessarily the route to Shangri la. Marriage breakups, marathon hours, and the often-stark news of a recently retired colleague departing well before their time wasn’t exactly the route map I had in mind and I began to rebel. This was reflected in my next vehicle purchase when I filed for divorce from the Ford brand and bought a second-hand series 3 BMW. Not the type of purchase to cause a splutter of astonishment but perhaps the odd elevated eyebrow in some quarters. As an Inspector, I now stood on the career precipice and rather than turn and climb the next moderate hill to the really top brass elevations I jumped, helped in no small way by my next car: A brand-new silver series 3 BMW.

As an internal renegade, I pushed the constitutional boundaries.

A business interest was permissible, but a procession of Chief Constables had frustrated even the most benign of requests. Until that is another brave soul threatened to take the Force to an Industrial Tribunal when his request to ferry celebrities from Heathrow Airport to their large homes in the neighboring countryside of Buckinghamshire and Berkshire was denied. The eve of a trial climbdown by the big cheese made this method of additional income a reality. Intrigued by the adversarial posture of the top brass I gained approval to engage within a permitted outside business interest and embarked on a qualifying law degree, financed partly by my employer, to fully understand how far I could push this public sector goliath.
In a relatively short space of time, I had formed a limited company with another colleague and was soon earning more money on my days off than I was in the main job. I remember vividly bumping into a colleague many years earlier as we both pushed our kids around a local park, reflecting on how tight the finances had become once the children had arrived. I will never forget his words of reality that we both shared at that moment in time. “I earn just enough to keep my head marginally below water!” Now, some years later, I was in a different place and had the means to metaphorically walk into a BMW dealer and say, “I want that one!” In addition to the host of standard equipment, I exercised my financial clout by insisting on a graduated tinted windscreen too. Why not? Fuck it, I thought!

On reflection, the decision to drive my new beast into the staff carpark was fraught with danger. There is a hierarchy of achievement in the police, and I soon realized that perhaps the Chief Constable still dreamt of owning a brand-new Beamer. On locking her a passing colleague momentarily stopped and exclaimed, “Nice handles.” That bizarre reaction was the calm before the storm as the next day I was required to apply for my business interest again. Over the next few months, I was treated as a pariah. Fully exonerated at the end of a needless and exceptionally intrusive investigation into my life my mind was made up and as I drove away from Slough for the last time I didn’t bother to look back. Things only got better.
Pulling into a carpark, simultaneously my BMW beauty and an X5 nearly kissed on the kidney-shaped grills. A younger guy jumped out and romped towards the shops in his white trainers. A sudden pang of emotion totally enveloped me. I had admired those elevated beasts for a while, yet this sudden proximity was the push I needed to rise to the challenge. With Adam in tow, I abandoned my shopping expedition and drove directly to the nearby BMW dealers in Ascot. Walking into the showroom a smiling salesman approached and I simply stated, “I’d like an X5 please!” Sitting me down and chatting through the pleasantries he attempted to steer my interest towards the existing deals on a series 5, extolling the virtues of this high-end saloon which afforded the highest degree of family fortune. This guy didn’t quite understand so I reinforced my desire. Holding up my middle finger I said, “I want to drive with this type of attitude.” He got his notepad and asked which X5 model I was interested in.

A few weeks later after scanning the horizon for the best offer the dealer drove an X5 over to my place for a test drive. I was late for the appointment and drew up behind the black powerhouse with its sparkling running boards glinting in the afternoon sunlight. Apologizing to the dealer he responded by saying that it wasn’t a problem as he had been watching the television. It had a TV? The dent in the driveway where my chin landed was clear but not as obvious as my eyeballs which spun like a one-armed bandit display coming to a crunching halt of two oranges. This had to be better than sex! Trying to bash him down on the price was fruitless as this particular lemon was still salivating. And so, I became
the owner of my first of five X5’s. I quickly got used to burning off white van man at the traffic lights who, more often than not, thought it was essential sport to try and get ahead of the BMW beast. After a few g-force ripples of his smooth juvenile face, once he had flicked his tongue back into place Adam asked, “Why do you do that Dad?” I smiled. “Because I can!” My motor mojo was back!

The X5 has consistently kept my love affair beating with every subsequent model becoming closer to achieving actual Star Wars Imperial Shuttle status. My latest partner in crime an X5 xDrive30d xLine reacts to my voice without the need to press a button whilst the fighter pilot technology displays the essential data directly onto the windscreen. Not to mention that I can download any music track, and the witchcraft that is automatic parking and reverse assist. My buttocks still clench although I must guard against any accentuated movements as gesture control is extremely attentive. Contrary to the popular myth, it is fitted with indicators which, if I feel the need, can mimic the color of the changeable internal mood lighting.

My car history has reflected the changes in my life, has shaped it and at times symbolized it. More than mere transport, my choices have often been transformational. Thanks for the rides. And please forgive me CJD 116V – you will always be in my heart.


© Ian Kirke 2023