(Please note in the blog post below, ALL photos (as always on this blog) were taken by me. All were taken from the car (with a remote trigger) or of the car).
As I mentioned on social media the other day, I have bought a new (old) car, which means the marriage between one of the loves of my life, my old Skoda and myself is now, coming to an end – something which actually makes me quite sad.
Contrary to some peoples’ impression of me, (generally people who have first met me in the last 10 years or so - I took my driving test later than most), I’ve always loved cars and always been interested in them. I love driving and I suppose get quite attached to possessions (including cars now) that have served me well. I do also tend to refer to vehicles (be they boats or cars etc...) as females (like many others, there’s a sensible reason behind that – at least I think so).
Some may think that’s silly. Understandable I guess – cars are just bits of metal, plastic and glass I guess. They aren’t living are they?
I suppose I know a little about cars (a general interest given to me by my father I assume, who was in the motor trade all his working life) and I chose the Skoda very carefully.
As part of the VW group for a good few years now, the 2003 Skoda Fabia 1.9 TDi “elegance” hatchback was (as far as I was concerned) always a pretty canny choice for a run-around.
With one of the best VW engines around (still is I think) the 1.9TDi (which was put in EVERYTHING for years) and top of the range Fabia trim (“elegance” means heated seats, air con, rear parking sensors etc), it was always going to be reliable AND fun.
Oh sure, she was a 2003 diesel, so she rattled a bit. I called her my little LAM. A small hatchback but with LOADS of room inside for her new 6’2” driver (much more so than comparable Polos or Golfs) and a big engine in such a small car.
The performance figures weren’t legendary, but I am still averaging over 50MPG in an 11 year old diesel with her – and I tend to drive quite aggressively. As with all diesel engines, low rev torque was always fantastic – even if you ran out of revs pretty quickly.
Well... my little LAM has nearly done 150,000 miles now. I doubt whether I’ll take her to that magical figure, but I think someone will. (I almost hope I do to be honest – just another 2500 miles to go which as far as my average miles per month is concerned is only another 2 months ish).
She probably has up to another 75,000 miles in her (often the beauty of these diesel engines) but she has developed a few niggly faults which are quite common in older VW group cars (polos, golfs and fabias especially) and it’s heart in mouth time these days each time I take her for the MOT each February.
The main issue she has (she always has) is a tendency to at best trickle charge the battery thanks to a faulty alternator, or more likely a dodgy DFM wire. This is a VERY common problem in older VW group hatchbacks – and means the battery drains very quickly (as its not charged efficiently during any run).
I have to run her each day, and quite hard, in a bid to get some sort of charge into the battery and even then, especially in winter when car batteries drain quickly and hold less charge anyway, she struggles to find enough charge to get the starter motor turning as well as everything else. The everything else specifically (in my LAM) means the electrical motor for the power steering – very often a warning light comes on after starting - and that is enough to fail an MOT it seems? There’s nothing wrong with the power steering of course – you just turn the motor off, turn it off again (like all IT geeks will tell you) and 9 times out of 10, the whole car is charged – enough to ensure the power steering comes on as planned also.
But the fix is quite expensive. If I’m right and it’s just the DFM wire, then that would be expensive enough (with labour factored in) but the alternator might be inefficient by now too.
Then there’s the fact that the bushes have all been replaced twice, but the suspension is still old and complaining a little.
Add to that the fact that the 12V power supply fuses regularly and the electric windows occasionally do what they want (another common problem on older fabias I hear).
Then there’s the far side headlights which always seem to be the ones that blow – in this age and model of car, you need hands half the size of mine to slip a bulb out from between the very forward placed battery and the cover to the light cluster. I have managed it twice, but only by ripping the back of my hands to shreds and putting my back out once. (I daren’t take the battery out as I’ve lost the radio code years ago).
Her exhaust is going.... it’s not seriously corroded, but think it will need replacing in a year or two, I can definitely feel some give in the clutch these days and I’m pretty sure most of her filters are filthy. I can “hear” that is probably the case.
Finally, my little LAM doesn’t half squeak and bounce on the road. She has a bit of a road rash, but that’s only visible if you put your nose on the bonnet or front bumper. The driver’s seat springs are pretty knackered now and as I’ve said, the suspension is pretty old and tired plus there’s a little play in the rack (but I can’t feel that yet through the steering so we’re ok for now).
All in all – and I could potentially spend over a thousand pounds getting all these niggles sorted this year – and that would make her a write off really, even though, like I’ve said, I think someone could possibly get another 75,000 miles or so from her (that’s at least 5 years good driving).
I’ve made her sound like a right dog haven’t I? But that’s certainly not how I’ll remember her.
She was the first car I actually owned (you always look back to your first (anything) fondly don’t you?!), she’s been a real trooper, never let me down mechanically and she and I have seen many, many things together over the years.
She’s acted as a mobile hide for me as we’ve both watched barn owls and little owls. She's given me opportunities to take different kind of shots from the "cockpit". (The last of the series below was taken in the Hindhead tunnel using a longgggg exposure as I drove through):
She’s seen many, many sunrises with me, witnessed the famous Burnham beeches autumn colour spectacle:
and carried my owl ladder without complaint or fuss. She’s provided light for me to watch fox cubs play on local country roads and shelter (and warmth – I’ve loved her heated seats!) for me when clouds burst above my head when I was photographing local wildlife:
She’s idled along with me as I’ve picked up toads from the local toad crossing each February or March :
and swerved around rabbits, pheasants and pigeons with no issue at all. She’s also ferried my son around also – to nursery or to our family walks in the countryside as well as belting out “banging toons” from my iPod or from the (excellent) radio – ‘toons’ from the New Christy Minstrels, through Capercaille and the Charlie Daniels Band, through Barry White and Kool and the Gang... all the way to the Velvet Underground, Whitesnake and ACDC.
I’ve had (touch wood) no accidents at all in her. Not even a scuff. The closest I’ve been is when we ran over a dead badger on the M4 at dawn one day, which had been frozen solid (by ice and rigormortis) which loosened her drip tray a little. There was one other time outside Sunbury when a BMW driver (isn’t it always) decided to turn slowly across my line of travel, which meant we had to violently accelerate and swerve hard - but rather like when I jumped out of a plane once and my parachute didn’t open properly – I always felt I was in control. My LAM did exactly what I wanted, at the exact time I wanted her to.
Then of course she was a lot of fun to drive. A hell of a lot of fun. Many people look at Fabias and automatically think of old “gunters” behind the wheel, incapable of driving quickly or safely and not blessed with a good all round vision.
It was often a surprise for fat, chauvinistic BMW and AUDI drivers when that old gunter turned out to be me behind the wheel in a car blessed with a pretty big (but subtly big) engine that could very often outstrip them and outdrive them.
We’ve witnessed at least two wide-eyed, slack jawed BMW drivers on our travels together – both tediously hell bent on teaching this assumed old boy in his old Skoda a lesson.
Both backed down when I lowered the electric window and gave them a look of steely contempt. Most of these aggressive, male German car drivers seem to be compensating for something I think. I wonder what?!
Sure, she was never a Ferrari. But her gearbox was a delight (as far as old diesel gearboxes go), her clutch was just right, as was her steering and I could throw her around like a go cart. She certainly had more poke than most people realised – and she still does.
I love being in control of a car. I love selecting gears – I love the feeling of control (and to quote that walking turd Jeremy Clarkson briefly) POWER. The greatest driver I’ve ever known was my father. He once drove me across the entire Scottish borders and demonstrated how to drive quickly and safely without going near the footbrake. Just selecting the right gear at the right time and making use of engine braking. It was very impressive and I’ve since learned to do the same quite often. I am often bemused and amused by the drivers ahead of me leaning on their brakes in top gear and only selecting a lower gear when they eventually grind to a halt. I like to think I drive better than that and treat my car(s) better. I’ll miss my manual gearbox massively in my new (old) car and will have to drive my wife’s car regularly to get that feeling of control back.
Back to my LAM. She was a canny choice and a fun choice and if money was no real object I’d probably look to something similar in the future – just something a little bigger, like an Octavia or even a Superb. Of course if money was no object at all I’d look to a new(ish) Landrover Defender with a Jaguar F type or an Alfa Romeo as a run around!
My father-in-law remarked a few months ago when he looked at my LAM parked in front of the house that “you’ve looked after your car well Doug haven’t you?”
I guess I have. I might drive quite aggressively in her, but I’ve always treated (and driven, dare I say) her well, kept her clean and looked after her, and as I type (touch wood) I’ve had no incidents in her, other than a small chip in the windscreen when a bolt from a lorry ahead worked loose on a dual carriageway in Hampshire and smashed into my LAM’s windscreen.
And now, as her time with me comes to an end.... I know I’ll miss her.
Dreadfully I think.
I do love driving. I adore hitting the country lanes at dawn each weekend with her and just driving. I take great pleasure from the whole driving experience. Whilst I know it is for many others, for me driving is NOT just getting from A to B.
I enjoy the experience. I really do. Even in an eleven-year old diesel Skoda!
I take delivery of my new (old) car tonight. A big estate car that’s only two years younger than the LAM, but unlike my LAM, this new (old) car is a petrol-fuelled Vauxhall with automatic transmission. It also has a smaller engine (just) than my LAM and is heavier. ON the upside, it has FAR more room (it’s an estate after all), will start even in the coldest winters, unlike my LAM which needs some help occasionally and the recent MOT certificates have no advisories at all.
All that and the fact that I’m getting it for a steal to be honest. I’m getting it for possibly less than I’d spend on getting my LAM back to how she should be. Put it this way – if I don’t get on with this new (old) car, I could probably sell it for over double what I’m buying it for – it’s that much of a good deal.
The new (old) car is a bit of a lump. A heavy, grey, slow lump. Dull as dishwater (I mean REALLY dull) with automatic transmission (not much poke and limited overtaking capability at least compared to my LAM) and pretty thirsty when it comes to petrol also.
Now - I’m no spring chicken any more. And I have a wee son to ferry about, safely and in a dull, uneventful fashion. So maybe this is the right time to effectively buy a big grey bus. And I’m sure the bus will do me proud and grow on me.
And as for my little LAM.
I might run her until her tax runs out (August) but then very probably it will be time to say goodbye.
I took her on a drive yesterday around her old stomping ground - and really did feel quite sad about ending our time together.
One thing that popped into my head yesterday -
She has never seen the sea you know.
Maybe before I send her off to the great big Skoda graveyard in the sky, I’ll take her to the seaside.
For now, I think the first verse of Sinatra’s karaoke classic sums up my feelings for my LAM and this is how I’ll end this post....
The end is near.
And so I face.
The final curtain.
I’ll say it clear.
I’ll state my case.
Of which I’m certain.
A life that’s full.
I’ve travelled each
and ev’ry highway (especially the A329M, M4 and M3)
Much more than this.
I did it..... myyyyyyyyy waaaaaaaaay......”