Readers Drives - Full Circle
Whilst in lockdown, I was reminiscing about the various cars, past and present that I have had the privilege to be the custodian of over the years since passing my driving test back in 1986.
From a young age I have always loved cars, I could tell you what type of car was coming down the road without even seeing it, identifying it just by the sound of the engine. I could also recognise the make and model of most cars from a long distance, by their silhouette (this is all very sad, but I reckon there are a few others like me out there !!!) Anyway I digress
Back in 1981, I was a 13 year old school kid and during the summer holidays my mum and I would spend 4 weeks in Belgium (my mums home country) staying with family over there, this in itself was not unusual because this was what we always used to do (and still do also with my wife and teenage kids) every summer since I can remember. My mum and I would travel from Dover as foot passengers on either Sealink Or Townsend Thoresen ferries and my my Uncle Jos would meet us at Ostend ferry port. 1981 stands out for me because unknown to me this year Uncle Jos had ditched the 1972 Peugeot 504 and had arrived in a BRAND new car that had never registered on my radar (up until now, it was all about the Fords) The car in Question was a 1981(E12) BMW 520/ 6 cylinder, solid black paint with beige fabric interior and Manual Webasto tilt and slide sunroof. I can remember my uncle saying that he had sleepless nights after placing the order from his BMW dealer, he was in turmoil over the paint colour, worried the car would be mistaken for a funeral directors car, but he had obviously overcome that thought, it did look good in black, I assured him.
I got in the front passenger seat and closed the door, the first thing I noticed was when the door closed it made a reassuring and pleasant “ping” (not the slam, bang and clang of your usual Ford or Vauxhall of that era) and all the other doors made the exact same “pinging” sound. My uncle informed me that BMW tuned the doors on the production line to get the same uniform sound from every door, I can picture it in my head, can you imagine them doing that on the Luton or Dagenham production line, I reckon that the production line workers back then would have told the quality control personnel to “F- - - OFF”.
During the 2 hour journey from Ostende ferry port to the Belgian family home all I did was scrutinise the whole car interior, build quality, and the sound of that fabulous 6 pot engine. A few things stood out, first the strange but ever so ergonomic position of the interior door handles, which to me were unique to what I had ever seen before on other vehicles. Then there was the red LED circular digital clock display, mounted in the centre console with an outer circular bezel surrounding it that you twisted to make adjustments to the “unten” ( ‘fan speed’ in English ) and finally the car just felt solid, it didn't squeak or rattle and not much wind noise. As a 13 year old I even inspected the panel gaps and shut lines of the car (sad but true) and I just enjoyed the sound of the fantastic 6 cylinder engine (once again very true and equally as sad).
Fast track to 1986, I had passed my Driving test (4th attempt, enough said) and my first ever car (totally influenced by my uncles 520/6) was a 1978 (E21) BMW 320/6 cylinder in “Pastel blue” with blue fabric interior (no sunroof though) reg LAA 719T with 59,000 miles on it. I think I paid around £3,000 for it as a private sale, I was the 3rd owner, it originally came from BMW dealer ‘Kings Worthy motors’ in King’s Lynn, Norfolk (Just bootiful)
This is my most memorable car for all the usual reasons that one lusts over their first ever car (no matter how good OR bad the ownership experience was, you will always remember it)I was in the 2nd year of my apprenticeship as a carpenter, the 1st year of my apprenticeship was under a new scheme that the government of the time launched. For those of you who care to remember or forget it was called Y.T.S (youth training scheme) you got paid £25 per week.
From the point of having the LAA 719T all my money was spent on the car, this was to be the start of a very long term relationship with my local BMW dealer Chandlers of Brighton, who are one of the longest established UK BMW dealerships. I remember my mates, who were also fellow carpentry apprentices constantly jibbing me about having a direct link with my BMW dealer and how my wage packed should have just bypassed me and gone straight into Chandlers bank Account, to be fair I did and still do spend a lot of time (and money) with them. I wasn't inclined to go out and spend my money at Topman on a Saturday afternoon on the latest fashion and then blow it that night at the clubs, pubs, and Disco, in fact there is a picture, together with all of my pals looking very cool for that period and me in a pink panther sweatshirt !!! (NOT cool for that period, in fact not cool whatsoever) YAWN, once again I digress, back to the car.
When I bought LAA 719T it was a totally standard car with steel wheels. In the next 2 years I set about doing what most boy racers did at that time and potentially ruined the car, by making out the car was something that it actually wasn't (sound familiar ?) although to be fair I think it looked mega cool at the time and it did seem to attract a lot of attention from the right people (job done then). Some of the things I subjected LAA 719T to are a set of BBS fake alloy wheels, Zender front and rear bumper spoilers, rear boot top deck spoiler (all purchased from Ripspeed International in North London) also a perspex “M” panel that fitted between the rear back lights which I got in Belgium so no one over here could get one, making my car stand out, RESULT!!! But the very best thing that the car was subjected to was actually a birthday present from best mate Dave and other pals, a genuine Alpina decal body stripe kit fitted by my BMW dealer, this totally transformed the car and got it noticed, in retrospect this was the best single item that was fitted to the car, you can judge for yourself in the pictures, also note the good looking guy in between the two cars with the turquoise Pink Panther sweatshirt or was it the orange Tom and Jerry sweatshirt tactically hidden under the blue “Campri” puffer jacket (SO very uncool), be kind to me, it was 1990, NO actually you’re right it was unforgivable, I won't subject you to a photograph of me wearing the sweatshirts in question, back to the cars.
Time for a change, the year is 1988 springtime and I say goodbye (for now) to LAA 719T and replace it with A 1987 Rosso Red Ford Capri 2.8 injection special D271 YCD with 12,000 miles on the clock, I always wanted one of these (because of the Professionals) think I paid around £7,000 for it from “Frost Cars”, who were and still are a Vauxhall franchise dealer. I was the 2nd owner (the 1st was a dentist, strange the things you remember) I can remember leaving LAA 719T in part exchange, doing the paperwork and jumping into the Capri Injection and driving it away from Frosts, it was a sunny Saturday morning and I had that ‘just got a new car’ feeling, but also equally felt gutted about leaving LAA 719T. Anyway, I enjoyed the Capri for around 18 months with no issues but one winter’s night whilst driving on a straight dual carriageway at about 60mph, I felt the back end of the car twitch, this really unsettled me (contrary to what you have just read above, I was not a hardcore boy racer or prolific speed merchant) this incident made me lose confidence in the car. After that event I found myself driving to the various used car dealers and my 2 local BMW dealers at night time (so I could wander around the used car forecourts undisturbed by sales people and look at the cars dreaming, at the same time knowing they were out of my financial reach). This went on for quite a few months, when out of the blue, one evening, I past an independent high performance car showroom, selling all brands of used cars, I had just spotted my next car behind their plate glass window.
Car 3, once again heavily influenced by the love of my Uncle Jos’s BMW (E12) 520/6, was to be a 1985 (E28) BMW M535I in Zinnobar red with 0206 pearl beige leather and electric everything (no air con or electric seats though). It had 56,000 miles on the clock. When new It was originally a BMW press promotions fleet car for its first 18 months with BMW GB Bracknell. BMW GB then passed the car onto BMW dealer “Vines” of Sevenoaks, where the 2nd owner bought the car from with 18,000 miles on the clock, the original reg was C480 ORD but the 2nd owner put his own private plate on it (908 WHW) which was also on the car for several months after I bought it until it was transferred back to the 2nd owner for his next car (a Mercedes). I, the 3rd owner, then placed another personal plate on the car BMW 180L (which it still has today). In retrospect I wish I could have reused the original C480 ORD first registration mark, I personally think that a classic car looks better showing its original year of registration. This was no longer an option, once I had fitted the new BMW 180L plates on the car I then went and bought a window etching kit from Halfords and etched ALL the glass on the car with the diamond tipped pen and stencil that came in the kit (anyone remember those?) with my new private plate details.
car back in the 1990’s with original TRX wheels.
This car was purchased by me in 1990 for £10,000, I have owned it for 30 years now and I absolutely adore it, (nearly as much as our family Dachshund). In 1995 I joined the BMW Car Club GB and discovered what concours was all about and the level of detail that could be achieved. From this point, I became what is known in the classic car world as ‘very anal’. Very soon after I found myself not wanting to drive the car on wet and salty roads, for fear of having to spend hours cleaning it again, just dry summer use only. To keep it in exceptional overall condition, BMW 180L has had vast amounts spent on it in the last 30 years, it’s the quintessential original ‘garage queen’. I have not entered any concours for well over 20 years (but have become even more fussy now, partly due to the value of classics have risen over the years) for me though its ALL about reminiscing, sentimental values and memories that a classic car can invoke in a person. It’s for these reasons (to quote our current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak) the car gets ‘whatever it takes’ to keep it in the best condition mechanically and cosmetically perfect, although I adopt the same ‘anal procedure’ to ALL my other cars.
The car as it is today
One thing that was very apparent when swapping back to a BMW from the Capri injection was the build quality and driving pleasure was like night and day, but in saying that the Capri is of a much older design era and is a “man in a boiler suit” (that’s me) compared to BMW’s Saville row suit. Both of these two cars are at either end of the car spectrum, however both give me the same level of enjoyment when I drive them.Out of all the cars the Capri 2.8 Injection tends to get the most interest from people.
Going back briefly to LAA 719T, my girlfriend at that time, knew how much I was attached to that car and on spotting the car for sale on the forecourt of a 2nd hand car dealer, a year after I had let it go for the Capri, she bought it back again! So for a while we had LAA 719T and 908 WHW (aka BMW 180L) at the same time, this was a really nice thing for her to do for me, hence the 2 different registration numbers for the same red BMW M535i that you can see in the pictures.
In 1999, the year of our 1st child, my wife and I bought NEW VW Golf GT TDI in pearl jazz blue pearlescent paint, which we imported from Denmark, a really really great car and never let us down, we sold it privately in 2005 with 71,000 miles on it, this was my Wifes all time favourite car (today my wife now drives a 2017 Toyota Yaris)
Two years before the VW Golf was sold, I was searching for another car (one type in particular). My justification to my wife, for the Golf to go, was we need a bigger car as we now had a 2nd child, luckily for me she went along with it. At this point, I must stress, that my wife ‘who is keen to point out was not my girlfriend back at that time’ has NO interest in cars whatsoever and hates BMW’s as they are generally driven by W- - - - - S, she may actually have a point but it’s generally the brand new company car drivers that weld themselves to your rear bumper on the motorway. I have to say I admire their dedication to the cause, they spend years practicing, honing their craft to be accurate to the last possible moment to be able to slice across three lanes of traffic to take the slip road at the very last opportunity. Naturally, this is a pastime that us Classic car owners never partake in !!
Anyway, having test driven one of these cars at a BMW Car Club GB event previously, I knew what the family needed and eventually I found it, 5 hours away in Scunthorpe At BMW dealer Astle. The year was 2005 and the car in question was a 2003 (E39) 530d saloon sport auto in Sterling Grey Metallic (an M5 colour) and black Dekota leather with 1 previous owner and 21,000 miles reg FY53 MXJ, This is one of the last batch of E39’s to be produced in March 2003 and generally speaking as with any car manufacturer the last production run of any car has had any production faults that came to life during earlier production corrected and tweaked to make the last batches the best of the bunch.I cannot stress what a great car the E39 is, it feels like the car is made out of 1piece of billet aluminium with no creaks or rattles even now at 18 years old with 77,000 on the clock. The only bad point with these M57 diesel engines was swirl flap ingestion issues, which BMW denied was an issue. I had the swirl flaps removed and billet aluminium plugs fitted to stop any potential engine damage, every one should at least drive an E39 if they get a chance, it constantly beat the competition from the other German competitors throughout its lifecycle.
I have 3M paint protection film on the whole front of the car all the way back to the windscreen pillars and Pentagon Supaglass light grey window film which should resist a hammer attack for 3 minutes (well you never know when someone may choose to conduct a British standard test of his Hammer against the side window of your car to see if his hammer is fit for purpose !!!) Both of these products have been on the car for years and still look brand new, not one single stone chip or anyone conducting British standard hammer test !The new replacement BMW E60 5 series had been out for nearly 2 years and technically was hailed as the better car, but speak to any BMW technician and they will all say the the E39 was the better car and I must agree.I still have this car today and it is by far the best car I have ever owned, at one stage this was the fastest production diesel saloon car in the world, there’s nothing this car won't do well, to the extent that I would not want to change it, even for a new 5 series. E39 THE BEST CAR I HAVE EVER OWNED (you see its that good, I had to tell you twice)
Back in 2017 I became 50 years young, cue the mid life crisis (the circle is starting to close) for 3 years previously I found myself looking on ‘Car and Classic’ once again looking at Ford Capri’s and in March 2017 I bought one from H&H car auctions at Duxford. I am a 1 man builder by trade and was at home pricing for work on my laptop, I don't know how this happened but I suddenly found myself on the live H&H auction site watching (and having no experience of buying a car this way) the proceedings, I watched the particular car I was interested in fail to meet its reserve price, bearing in mind that I had not pre registered my details for the auction, I would not have been able to bid online so I tried the old fashioned way and called the auction line and said I would offer £500 more than the last bidder and 5 minutes later the H&H came back to me to say the owner had accepted my offer. I now find myself the custodian of a 1987 Ford Capri 2.8 injection special D750 HYP with 2 previous owners and warranted 71,000 miles with service history in crystal blue metallic. This is what happens when you watch re runs of Bodie and Doyle on ITV HUB !!! The car was £12,995 + purchase fee, it is in very good overall original condition, but I intend to take it to the highest level of detail with a strip down restoration by “Restore a Ford” who are known in the classic Ford world as the best in the industry and better still it is a father and son only business who really do care about what they do, with people on a 3 year waiting list for their services, once completed this will be another ‘garage queen’ and one of the best in the country, remaining to factory standard in all aspects down to the most minute detail for new original Ford accessories like mud flaps and rubber floor mats etc.
The demand for NOS parts is high for these cars and now very rare and mega expensive. If you can get them, for instance a genuine new Ford Capri front wing is well over £1,000.
The complete interior, dashboard, door panels, centre consoles, all carpets and trims (including the boot) is already out of the car and being cleaned, revived and re dyed, new original strobe seat fabric fitted to all the seat centres and the original shark grey leather outer seat sections (already in great condition) cleaned and recoloured to be factory perfect, the interior plastic surfaces are being re sprayed. All this work is being done by ‘Interior Revival’ who, in my opinion, are the best in their field of work, being a husband and wife only business, using long forgotten, old school techniques with the finest attention to detail. Because it’s a car of ‘the people’ and everyone knew someone who either owned one or some other family member or friend had one. For me, that’s the point of a classic, NOT to show off but to put a smile on peoples faces as I drive past them as they point, smile and remember for that moment how things used to be in the world.
In 2018 I continued to plough on with my mid life crisis and bought yet another classic car, yes you guessed it another (E21) 3 series, this time the very last special limited edition production run of the E21 3 series. Apparently each UK BMW franchise got just 1 car per dealership as the run out 323i LE (limited edition). The difference of these cars were they had the following as standard, two tone metallic paintwork (ascot grey on the top and graphite grey on the lower half of the car) BBS alloy wheels, rear rubber boot spoiler, BBS front spoiler, headlamp wash wiper system, anthracite fabric Recaro front sport seats, sport steering wheel and sport suspension.I actually know this car, having competed against it in my early BMW Car Club concours days, back in the mid nineties when I used to enter the E28 M535i against it. The 2nd owner was a really nice guy who was a traffic police officer, Paul kept the car absolutely pristine. The car has had 2 other owners since, making me the 5th custodian. Today the car interior is still faultless but other areas need bringing back to original factory detail to befit how a car of this rarity and low mileage deserves to be returned to. Possibly one of the lowest (if not the lowest) mileage examples, with only 43,000 miles on the clock, XRU 58Y will be the best one out there, once I have finished with it. The car is currently under going a no expense spared mechanical makeover at Classic Heroes, lots of genuine BMW parts fitted and re-chroming of the all bumper sections, followed by a proper show car respray with Stuart and Alex at “Restore a Ford” this will be the best factory original detailed example in the Country.
Will I ever drive any of these cars once all the work is done? GOOD QUESTION Keep an eye out at various club events and other classic car gatherings, if the weather is great, possibly and if it’s wet ‘sayonara baby’.
Both Cars currently at Classic Heroes under Self Isolation
Well I have come “Full circle” having bought versions of my first 2 cars again in later life, “mid life crisis, what mid life crisis?” It was never my intention to end up with 4 Classics but as the saying goes, we don't own a Classic car, we just look after it until the next custodian is ready to pick up the batton.
Stay safe, stay indoors, health not wealth and failing that theres always “Car and Classic” and “Piston Heads” if you get bored !!!
Best of luck to you all, wherever you may be