The other day I was stumbled across the ability to lease a brand new car for less than £200 a month. The appeal was huge: free tax, cheaper insurance, lower fuel consumption, not having to worry about breaking down and, in my case, no need to worry about whether or not my chosen destination has speed bumps too large for the car to drive over. This got my thinking; why do I (and thousands of others) spend all of my time, effort and money on modifying my (admittedly old) car?
The real catalyst for my thinking came when my Civic broke down on my way to work and I had to borrow my sister’s Fiat Punto for a few days. The Punto in question was actually my first car a few years back and getting back in the driving seat was an odd experience to say the least. Even things as basic as the presence of the rear seats and a boot came across as a luxury. It was nice to have a heater that worked, a lack of rattles and squeaks as I drove and the ability to travel over speed bumps and relatively rough terrain faster than 15 mph. In other words, what a normal person would expect a normal car to be like.
I drove the relatively short journey round the M60 and across the M62 to Huddersfield to pick up some more parts for my Civic and again, I continued to be impressed with the most simple of things in the Punto. I could actually hear the radio over the tyre and wind noise, for instance. My back wasn’t numb from the ride quality (or the lack thereof that I’m used to) and the fuel gauge needle was staying relatively still.
On my way home it hit me: why do I dedicate myself to modifying a car that is so lacking in the areas that any normal person would consider rudimentary and a regular feature of any relatively modern car? I decided to take a scenic route home, just for the hell of it. I came out of a 30 mph zone and entered a national speed limit (60 mph) country lane in second gear…and floored it. At least, I thought I did. There was no noise, no drama. I felt no thrill, no rush as I moved through the gears. I eventually reached a corner, braked and changed down a gear. The car absorbed the bumps and ruts in the road admirably, albeit with a large amount of body roll and a complete lack of corner speed. The corner was followed by another straight section and the process continued. It felt mundane, boring and I, as the driver, felt completely uninvolved.
Thankfully, I managed to source a new exhaust for my Civic and spent all night fitting it with my mate Andy in my office’s car park. After a lot of swearing and hitting things in the cold and the rain, we got it fitted and packed up our tools and headed home at 11:30 pm. Again, I questioned why I was dedicating so much time and effort into the car, but deep down I was hoping that my love for the Civic would come flooding back upon driving it the following day.
The following day came and I couldn’t stand having to stare out of the office window at my car in the car park, back on the road and ready to be driven. My lunch break came. I couldn’t resist. I headed to the nearest country lane, which, thankfully, was deserted. I pulled out into the road, straightened up…and floored the accelerator. It all came flooding back: the noise, the rush, the thrill of driving a car that was held together with nuts and bolts tightened by myself during long, cold nights. Every gear change was satisfying as the speed and discomfort increased and the noise grew louder with every increment in revs. I came up to the first corner and began changing down a gear and braking. The brakes were sharp, the gear change was crisp, the steering was responsive. Every bump, ripple and pot hole in the road was translated through the coilover suspension and into my spine. And then it hit me…
I don’t care if my car is uncomfortable. I don’t care if my car isn’t economical. I don’t care if it takes an age to warm up on winter mornings, that the cabin noise is too loud and that the underside of the car scrapes on all but the smallest of speed bumps. All I care about are the few precious minutes that I get on deserted country lanes every now and the thrill that comes with them. Why? Because I’m a petrolhead, and that’s all that matters to me.