60 in 60

Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.

56 CARS

The above photograph, taken outside of our house in Downing Road circa 1966. An excited young me sitting behind the (large) steering wheel of what was probably dad’s company car, I think a ‘Mini’? It is the one and only pic of me, as a child, in a car. I must have seen it before, if so I had completely forgotten it until it turned up only days ago.

I loved playing in ‘Dads’ cars (they were never locked). Messing with the controls, especially the floor mounted starter solenoid button. This fascinated me, I imagined I could actually start (and drive) the car …. If only I knew how to drive!

Unlike most modern cars, the sixty’s Mini starter solenoid is permanently live as in, if pressed, it would crank the starter motor, if the car was in gear it would jerk forwards, off the starter-crank. The engine would not actually start unless the ignition key was present and engaged but, as a child, it was naughty and magical. I would often demonstrate this to my young friends, proclaiming ‘look,  I can start dads car’.    

Over the years he had a variety of company cars presumably, whatever was spare for use at any given time, Landrovers, small vans, larger vans, lots of Minis and eventually, more regularly, a couple of Austin 1300’s one of which I learnt to drive and past my test in.

As a young child I wasn’t fascinated with cars. I liked and played with my own collection of ‘toy’ Matchbox and Dinky Cars and I had a toy car garage. Like any child born around 1959 – early sixties, I owned, (perfunctory for that era), Batmobile and iconic James Bond 007 DB5 Aston Martin along with only a couple of standout oddments – A yellow ‘Echo Van’ The Liverpool Echo newspaper, delivery van. I also recall a red Sunbeam Rapier sports car. Apart from those nothing else really comes to mind.

I do remember being particularly fond of a much larger, plastic, scale model of a Citroen DS 19. It had a friction drive and lots of moving parts, engine bay, doors opening etc. The DS series is an unusual, distinctive (ugly), but innovative for the time car with adjustable Air Suspension. The model had been a Christmas present, from Dads works (children’s) Christmas Party.  

Aged 9, I was given an Airfix Motor Racing ‘slot’ car set, less expensive than the more popular Scalextric, I think it was bought second hand. It was larger than standard with loads of additional track which meant you could assemble complicated circuits with lots of tight turns? It came with two ‘standard’ slot cars, loosely based upon the F1 race cars of the time. I would oil then, tweak them, attend to the brush contacts anything to make them go faster.  

It is fair to say I had an interest in cars from a young age but nothing more than an interest, certainly not a fascination, an addiction.

The Early Years

As soon as I and my 2 close friends Jeff and Ray (Razzer) learnt to drive everything changed. 3 testosterone fuelled young men? Our cars became our cock extensions?  

Jeff had instinctive, mechanical traits, he loved just messing with cars and vans. We (our band) owned an old HGV (light goods) Bedford J-Type van, which Jeff would, constantly, want to maintain and improve, Jeff would think nothing of changing the gearbox in his supped-up Ford Escort on a total whim, just for a laugh on a lazy Sunday afternoon and I would, of course, be there to assist him.

Our ‘sights’ our car aspirations at the time were typical of our Liverpool, working class situation. ‘Lads’ from Liverpool didn’t want any Ferraris or Porches? Super Cars like that wouldn’t even cross our radar. Our ultimate cars were Ford RS2000’s or Ford Mexico’s. My preference being the Ford V6 3 Litre Capri.

It wasn’t until starting to work as a HGV mechanic that I became more aware of ‘other’ cars. Some of the drivers at the haulage company where I worked had nice cars, a Mazda RX7 (Wankel) twin turbo, a VW Karmann Ghia, a 3.0 litre Capri and my foreman drove an original Ford Lotus Cortina Mk1 at a time when that meant fuck-all!

Being young I was restricted (by insurance limitations) as to what I could own and (legally) drive. I seen a Dodge Challenger Supercharger on TV and rang for an insurance quote, £13,000! In those days you could buy a small house for less than £4,000.

I realised I was attracted to the ‘different’, whatever car it was it had to have a twist, not be bog standard. I loved the idea of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, something that would surprise? A normal looking car that wasn’t normal at all?

The Triumph Dolomite Sprint always appealed to me (with the sprint badges removed of course). A normal looking saloon car that would out-perform ‘fancy’ sports cars. A proper Porsche 924/944 basher?

My first nice car was a Vauxhall Viva Magnum look-alike. Not a genuine Magnum but it was supped-up, it looked fantastic and it sounded loud and fast. But, it was not fast enough.

I had an ‘arrangement’ with Jeff who was now working on the line at Fords, Halewood. Jeff could provide chrome or matt-black car wing/door mirrors and I would sell them thru work and also via my day-release college apprenticeship network.

For an additional charge I would fit the mirrors, usually of a dinner hour in work. The mirrors were a new thing not previously fitted to earlier model Fords and they became a popular, regular seller. All proceeds went into a glass piggy bank and we split it between us, literally broke it open at the end of the year, Christmas.

I fitted a set of black door mirrors to a lime Green 3.0 litre Capri, the owner left the keys with me, me promising, sincerely, NOT to drive it. No chance? It was fucking insane, stupidly quick compared to anything I had ever experienced before. I had to have one, I had to have that one. Over the next 12 months I hounded him into selling it to me.

The day came and he finally relented. Even as an apprentice I was earning decent money, working 7 days a week (overtime plus regular ‘foreigners’) money was not really an issue but I could not quite make his asking price. I borrowed £500 from Gail, she too loved the idea of us in a Bright Green 3.0 litre Capri. I bought it 2 weeks before my 21st birthday for £750 with only 3,000 miles on the clock and I wrote it off, 2 weeks later, on my 21st birthday, 7.45am driving into work!

Two weeks!

The lads in the workshop had a raffle as to when (not if) I would write it off, only one had said two weeks, everybody else had said a week, tops. It wasn’t insured. I lost the lot. I kept the wreckage (scarp) and bought another, 1600GT Capri to swap the engines.

12 months later I still had l not. I was storing in Arthur, Gail’s dads lock-up and 12 months on he lost patience and kicked me out. I scrapped the chassis and sold the V6 engine to Peter, Jeff’s brother-in-law for a pittance, he fitted it into a Ford Tranny.

The Functional Years

I was made redundant not long afterwards, thus followed a ‘lean’ financial period. I was busy with my band and cars were not really important to me at the time. The band owned a series of Ford Transit Vans. Despite any real funds Gail and I enjoyed an interesting Austin Healey Sprite (not frogeye) for a year or so. It had a Ford 1600 Mexico engine fitted into it, very quick but could not stop! Another little Wolf-cub. I remember being ‘pulled’ by an unmarked police car on the East Lancs, after I had blew him away from the lights……I was going so fast the car, still on small, original brakes could not stop at the next junction! The police car, a 3.0 litre V6 Ford Granada, didn’t get close! I

I wasn’t earning at the time, to make ends meet, I would buy ‘cheap’ cars from local auctions, tidy them up and sell them for a quick £50-£100 profit.

In keeping with my ‘different and interesting’ Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing mindset I bought a Hillman Hunter Holbay, (aluminium race engine) saloon with the intention of selling on – buy, try, tick the box, sell on and go again. I really liked the car and ended up keeping it for a couple of years.

Eventually, due to lack of funds we had to sell the Holbay and the Sprite which was slowly falling into disrepair and we could not afford to restore it. After the Sprite went, then followed a period of ‘needs be’ cars, family cars, functional, estate cars, cheap and affordable with only one notable exception.

A ‘crazy’ VW Golf Mk11 2.0 TDi. It was in fitting with my mindset, plain looking but a ‘wolf’. It was quick, too quick for what it was. We never ever got to the bottom of why it was so rapid but it was, the front wheel drive torque-steer from a standard start was crazy. I would tell people about it and they would go ‘oh yeah’ dismissively and then they would try it! I regret not investigating further, finding out why it was so rapid, I would buy that car back now, today (if only I had made a note of the reg).

After an unexpected windfall, (another story), we benefited from a substantial, PRS royalty payment that arrived during Easter and quickly led to booking an unexpected Florida, family holiday. During which, (for the first time in the flesh), I seen the then new, BMW Z2 Roadster. I had seen pictures in magazines and already loved their retro-ness. Same trip I seen the new Mazda MX5. Both excited me (car excitement), I suddenly, had a car goal again. Either of them became my car aspiration.

I had begun to emerge form a tricky career period, out of desperation I had started working in cabaret bands which became a stable, reasonable income for many years. A series of estate cars and the odd small van for work and for the first time, the notion of a second car (for Gail) resulting in a one-year-old, damaged repaired, Peugeot 206.

We bought it from a friend who had repaired it to a very high standard as a second car for his wife. She couldn’t take to it and we bought it. Naively, I had no clue what Cat D, damaged repaired even meant and the implications for resale. It was electric blue, brand-new and Gail and the kids loved it so we bought it.

My (band), business partner, a car buff spotted a cheap LHD Z2 for sale in a local garage. I took the 206 and asked about a P/X. Their ‘checks’ discovered that the 206 was ‘listed’ and therefore worth considerably less than I had bargained for.      

I started researching 206’s prices, damaged repairs and the implications thinking that we should try and shift it on. For some reason I hit upon an old Porsche, it had popped up in a search, out of curiosity I had a more detailed look, ‘what would an older Porsche actually cost’? I was really shocked to find that an older Porsche was actually within reach. Game changer. A newish Mondeo or an old Porker? No brainer?

I found a 1985 widebody Prussian Blue 3.2 Carrera priced at £13,000. The seller was prepared to P/X with our 206 and at the price we had paid for it. He didn’t appear phased by the Cat D status. I could take out a loan for the difference.

We were living in a ruff arsed area of Liverpool, no garage just a short, exposed, drive. No place for a fancy Porsche? Gail, (and the kids) were, understandably, worried that the Porker would attract too much (negative), jealous, attention?

It took a lot of convincing and I eventually pushed the button, with an assurance that if it didn’t go well I would sell the Porsche straightaway, and as I was selling Gails car within the deal, that the Porsche was hers to use as often as she wanted.

The new Porsche – Everything went well, very well. The local scallies loved the Porsche, I had one bonnet emblem stolen at the very beginning but that was it. I encouraged ‘them’ to admire the car, I would even give some of them rides in the car, explaining to them that, one day, they too could own a car like mine should they set their sights on it.

The 911 was the (new) start. The Genie was, well and truly, out of the bottle. My sights set, but already looking higher…Fuck Porsches, there are loads of them about? What about a Ferrari? In the 80’s I was blown away by the Magnum PI TV series and Tom Seleks iconic, Red Ferrari 308. Instantly my ‘dream’ car, one day, as soon as I became a rich rock star? That ‘Magnum’ Ferrari would be mine?

Gail enjoyed driving the 911 but the Porsche hated Gail. For some reason it would, unexplainably, just not start for her. It behaved perfectly for me but the only time it would breakdown would be when she drove. She would drive somewhere park up but on return, nothing.

I tried several ‘experts’ but know-body could solve the problem permanently. It was time to ‘go again’, the notion of a trade-up, a Ferrari was suddenly more appealing. A 308 was still a bridge too far, what Ferrari could I realistically afford? I found a Ferrari 456GT for sale at a dealers in Bolton who was prepared to P/X with my Carrera which had began to require more and more work. I traded the 911 for a Ferrari 456GT, making up the financial gap with another loan.

The 456 was immense. A monsterous 5.6 Litre Ferrari V12. We had moved house to a ‘posher’ area, a detached house with a garage. The V12 sub-base, low grumble would set off every house alarm in the Close. When I bought it it was unexplainably inexpensive? Considering, the 456, on launch was a Ferrari, flag-ship model costing £175,000! Their advert stated ‘The Ferrari 456GT, costs more than a house, but you can live in your car, you can’t drive your house’?

By now Gail had owned her own MX5 and was currently driving her (second), Porsche Boxster, followed by a bunch of (996) Carrera’s until she got 2 speeding tickets in a single week, trying to out-run men in white vans, who were terrorising her. She loved modern ‘performance’ but was fed up of modern attitudes to women in ‘fast’ cars.

We went all retro, attempting to re-kindle our, old ‘courting’ times, when we were just kids driving are gorgeous little ‘Sprite’. We traded her 911 for a lovely, black Austin Healey Frogeye. It was stunning but totally impractical, no boot, tiny, even for us ‘Hobbits’ and the final straw, complete brake failure, on entering a round about, meant it had to go. We looked at alternatives and, randomly I discovered a White Porsche 356 Speedster.

I had never come across the 356 model before and I was, instantly, blown away. Gail thought the same, it was the nicest car we had ever seen! Not an original Porsche, but an interesting replica by DAX, of Covin-Dax fame. In the early days (70’s-80’s), Dax created several Speedsters but went on to find success with their AC Cobra’s. The Dax Speedster’s had a great reputation for their, bespoke, race-spec sub frame and some believe a Dax would out-perform the original Porsche Speedsters, all day. We traded Gails Frogeye, for ‘Dov’ a glorious, white, 356 Speedster.

The next ‘trade-up’ was the 456GT for a 360 Modena…. and our car fascination went on and on and on ….8 Porches, including a Classic 912 imported from New York, a Speed Yellow ‘The Little Wasp’ ’80’s 3.0 SC Targa) and two Ferraris.

The Classics Years

There was a (subliminal shift from modern to classic. We seemed to be focusing, mainly, on classic cars – Austin Healey Frogeye, an Austin Healey 3.0 litre BJ8 (I traded for the 360), an Austin Nash Metropolitan, an MGB GT, Porsche 912, Porsche SC Targa, anything unusual, but nothing you would see on every day of the week?

We eventually started our own Exotic Car Hire – Wedding Car business, we bought a fantastic, restored 1964 VW Split Screen Campervan (for the bridesmaids), ‘little Dov’ our White Speedster (for the bride), a Karmann Ghia (for the groom). Strictly no self, only chauffeur, a nice way of showing off our cars whilst earning some additional cash to help with the costs of owning and maintaining our old growing collection.  

I was buying (and selling), trying not to lose money and making small profits along the way. Occasional losses and some ‘good’ wins but basically we won more than we lost?We couldn’t get enough of cars, the weddings, travelling to car shows, becoming involved in car communities (Cars n Coffee), meeting, enjoying the company of, likeminded ‘car people’.

One evening we sat down and decided to record ‘our cars’, the vehicles we had owned over the years. We were flabbergasted to find, at aged 55 (Gail 56), we were, already at 50 plus vehicles! At that time we owned 8 cars, some at home (our dailys), others in a storage facility (our wedding cars and projects).

I had a notion that I should achieve 60 cars before I was 6160 cars in 60 years?

Then, completely out of the blue, aged 56, I discovered I had incurable, advanced prostate cancer and our world (everything) changed. Panic set in, how long do I have? How will Gail be able to manage our cars on her own? I need to ‘get my affairs in order’? Sell off the unusual (harder to sell) cars that I did not want Gail to be stuck with, and ripped off by?

Now   

I missed the, self-imposed, 60 in 60 target. It, suddenly became less of a priority? We are currently at 56 cars in 62 (63) years. The last two cars ‘to go’ (sold) were my incredible, 2017 Alfa 4C Spider and a fully restored, 1954 Fiat 500 Topolino Belvedere Estate. Cousins but polar opposites and both, equally stunning in their own way.

We own just two cars now, 2 Fiat Abarth. Two ‘Dailys’ .Gail’s forth Abarth and my first. I have always wanted one but one I could ‘mess’ with? Lowering suspension, improve performance ‘proper, mess with’. They are a very good car to play around with, there are so many options.

I actually cried watching the 4C drive away. I (still) regret selling it, and not for the first time that I have regretted a car sale but this time, somehow, much more than any of the others including my ferocious, Ferrari 360.

What is different about the sale of the Alfa?

Maybe it was the realisation (admission) of the end of the road? The end of my car journey? That admission had involved a huge amount of self-analysis and soul searching.       I, finally, realised that it was not about ‘the cars? It is about the memories? For me, it is and always has been, about the chase? I was never satisfied? I could never be satisfied? I was always looking for more, why?

The process of hunting down, the finding, discovering, negotiating the deal, and most important of all, ‘the winning’? If it wasn’t cars it would be something else? I am addicted to the chase? As soon as I have the car, ‘get the win’ I am looking for the next car, the next win? It never ends? 56 cars and it is still the same, as soon as I get ‘the one’ I’m looking for the next ‘one’. It is never enough for me? It might well be 156 cars and it would still not be enough?

I know many collectors, some with unlimited budgets, some more modest like myself, who all agree, It’s all about the chase and it is never ever enough. Jay Lenno, has one of the finest private car collections yet he is ‘still’ not satisfied? It is never enough?

Once I realised this I stopped.

Cars became part of my identity, my mindset, my continuous, subconscious, desire to be different? Me as demonstrated by my music, my cars, my clothes? Exploration, curiosity, risk-taking, gambling….winning?

Music is often considered the soundtrack of ‘our lives’? A way of associating significant moments that take place throughout our lives? We hear a certain song and we instantly remember a special ‘moment’ in time? If music be my soundtrack, cars be my roadmap? In the same way as my music, I associate ‘my’ cars with, important moments in my life.

Regrets – Wish List

I had my sights set on a Maclaren. One final Supercar fling?

Could I afford it? Yes, just, but could I justify it? Probably? I am fucking dying, after all? A reality check shows that it won’t fit in our garage. Those silly fucking doors!

There are so many cars I would love to own. The truth is there are too many and that’s that. There would always be another? I am lucky to have owned, driven, enjoyed what I have owned, all 56 of them? Not that many years ago my dream car was a Mazda MX5!

The Truth is, for the first time in my life, during the past 12 months, I hadn’t really seen anything (that I can afford) that truly excited me? That is until I seen the new Lotus Emira! WOW! But is it any nicer, any better, any more unusual, spacial’ than the Alfa 4C I have just let go?

The Jury is out.

70 in 70?

Thanks for reading

Peace

Published by Riff

Husband to my inspirational, (long suffering) wife, father of two amazing (adult) children, teacher, former guitarist (now guitar owner), recent 'granda(r) to my beautiful grandson who I am yet to meet. I Love people. I love my family, my friends, I love(d) what I do (my Job), I love Music, Cars, Everton .... I love many things, most of all I fucking love 'life'.

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