Sunday, June 07, 2009

Four Wheels on my Wagon

Have you seen the latest offer from the government to get that smile back on your face while the economy lurches forward into the famous if somewhat clichéed Land of the Green Shoots? Simple. You take yourself along to the dealership and choose a new coche. I’d take the blue one, but each to his own. Just say to the chap with the huge smile and the gentle smell of too-much Brylcreem that you’d like to buy that one over there and watch his smile falter slightly as you toss him the keys to your old rattletrap. As long as it’s ten years old or more (apparently the average age of cars in Almería is an impressive fourteen), he’ll have to take it in part exchange, knocking, between one thing and another, two thousand euros off the price of the new one.
Now there’s a deal.
A deal I shan’t be picking up on, personally. You see, I don’t think much to new cars. They lose a third of their value the moment you get them out of the showroom, and somebody is sure to put a ding in it within a few days. Which won’t help the resale value either. However, if you intend to keep it for the next fourteen years, then a ding or two won’t matter much. My current transport is covered in them, together with a small and rather curious type of purple moss growing out of the rubber around the windscreen.
I’ve only ever once bought a new car here. It was a SEAT 1450 Whizzer which retailed at the magic price of 500,004 pesetas. I learnt that day that our friends the local businesses aren’t always great salesmen. I went in and pointed at the car, waved a check-book and said gimme. A man with a flared suit and half a pint of Varón Dandy dabbed behind his ears sauntered over and, to my surprise, told me I’d be much happier with a Renault 4 which, by a happy coincidence, their competitor sold just across the street. I had never seen this kind of salesmanship before and insisted, even making a joke about the extra four pesetas. I should have listened; the car was a lemon of the first order. I eventually gave it to an ex girlfriend. Come to think of it, they went rather well together.
Normally, I’ll buy old crocks. They are usually overpriced and the ashtrays are always full, but they’ll do nicely around here. No one steals them and they won’t have heated seats, swivelling headlights or navigation systems – so useful when you are driving to Garrucha – but they will generally do the trick and if the dog is sick on the back seat, hey, well who’s gonna care?
One car I bought off a dealer was an old Mercedes, like the one that Lady Di was in on her fateful drive through the Paris tunnel. That thing weighed several tons and I am sure that, at 120 kph, if a Fiat Uno were to hit it going the other way, there wouldn’t be anything left of the Italian car bigger than a piece of dust. So much for conspiracies. I had bought the car sight unseen – it was during the days when I ran a newspaper and this was a reputable advertiser from Alicante – and, to be frank, I had expected something a bit smaller (and, after the number plate fell off one time) a bit less imported. Still, it went pretty well for a few years.
And it did have those all-important heated seats, which tended to switch themselves on at odd moments.
The fastest car I ever owned – or ever drove for that matter - was an old Italian car fitted with a six litre Chrysler engine that I saw in a shop window in Madrid and immediately bought. It was in reasonably good condition even if it didn’t have much in the way of brakes. I drove it down to Mojácar scoring several speed records. This car was very fast and could beat the limit while still in first gear. Not much use, but fun to own. A young neighbour tried to fix the brakes and ended up trashing the speedometer – which rather took the pleasure out of driving it around. I eventually sold it for a song to some collector and it’s apparently now all fixed up and worth a fortune. But can you drive it down the playa for a beer? You see? Useless!
The finest cars ever made were the Citröens. The old ‘dos caballos’ 2CV was a splendid car made out of bits from a sewing machine. It would do 0-60 in about twenty minutes and, instead of interior-sprung seats (to say nothing of heated ones) it would have two deck chairs in the front held on by rubber bands. Between them and the suspension (more rubber bands) going round a corner in one was always going to be fun. It also had the push/pull gear stick which disappeared into the dashboard and changing gear was rather like stirring soup with somebody else’s arm. The Guardia Civil were kitted out with a special police version of the 2CV – it had a spare engine in the boot. I’m not kidding, there’s still one in Cuevas.
The best Citröen that I had was the GS. It had the clever suspension which rose up and down at the touch of a lever, useful when on ‘high’ for crossing rocky streams; and for settling firmly on the ground when parked on a yellow line, making it impossible to tow. Once I was thundering along the beach in this one that I had been given by somebody who had left for a better life in Canada. Playing with the knob and bouncing up and down. I was just overtaking another car when – bang – the bonnet of mine suddenly sprang open from the lock on the front and, caught by the wind, it curved over the windscreen and roof with a crunch. Blinded at 80kph! I stuck my head out of the side-window and kept on going. Anything else might have been dangerous. The other driver’s jaw fell open in horror as he contemplated this scene in the left lane alongside him and he ended up in the sand. It didn’t seem like the moment to stop and offer to lend a hand.
I later bought another bonnet from the desguace – in a different colour, just in case – and kept the car for another year. Now who would want to swap a thing like that for a new Veedub, that doesn’t even have an ashtray?


Michael said...

I echo Lenox's remarks about Citroens. Two models are in my dreams: the "deuch" or 2CV which Lenox mentions, and the old DS Pallas, a few of which are still to be seen. If you're both rich and lucky you could get to own the DS Pallas convertible.

In 1988 I bought a fairly new sky-blue Citroen Visa. In July of that year I set off with a friend round the Western Mediterranean. From Naples, where I was living, we went to Palermo on the car ferry, then from Trapani to Tunis; across Tunisa, Algeria, Morocco, Andalusia, the south of France and finally back to Naples. Seven thousand kilometres in thirty-three days.

The car performed faultlessly. Even the day when, driving from Bizerta to Tabarka, Tunisia, the thermometer in the car, clipping along at 70 km/h with all the windows open, reached an amazing 47 degrees, did not faze it. The only thing wrong with it was that it didn't have headrests on the seats. This at times made driving uncomfortable.

I can even remember some of the technical details: the cubic capacity of the motor was 1124 cm3, a fact gleaned through having to fill in reams of customs forms in Algeria for the "Carte touristique". In Morocco my passport was stamped, with regard to the car, "Interdiction de Cession". Don't have your car stolen or written off there unless you love bureaucracy.

For many years it's been impossible to do this journey. We were some of the last as in October 1988, things went rapidly to pot in Algeria, as a nasty civil war got under way. The only other foreign motorists we met there was a group of Spaniards coming the other way through Kabylie, the mountainous region to the east of Algiers.

I could write much more about this trip and maybe will in the near future.

- Norman Ivy

Lenox said...

Hey Norman - I did Algeria many years ago in an Ami Six. We tented in Tlemcen and fired all the way down to Goulemine. Je m'en foux, moi!

Lenox said...

On (sober) reflection, it was Ghardaia...
I also remember Tizi Ouzou in the Kabilie, where the car developed a small problem. We were well attended at Tizi Pneu.