Saturday, 20 October 2012

Blast from the past - Boys' toys

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Almost my earliest childhood memory, nearly 50 years ago, is of standing at the windowsill with my mother, waving my father off to work each morning.  We lived in Denham at the time and people did that sort of thing.  But as my mother returned to the chores of the day, I would linger at the window watching the cars go by.  Like most four year old boys, I could identify all makes of car.  Had it been 15 years earlier, I would have been confidently telling Spitfires from Hurricanes, Messerschmitts from Heinkels and so forth.  But this was 1961 and I had to settle for cars.  Not just any cars mind you.  Among the Austins and Morrises, Humbers and Singers, Rileys and Wolseleys, there were two I was looking out for.  One was a green Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, which, with Teutonic precision, passed the house every day at exactly 8.32 AM. Even in the 1960s, the automotive industry’s heyday, the Karmann Ghia looked special.  But beautiful though it was with its coupe body and whitewall tyres, the Karmann Ghia was just a warm-up for the main event.
 At around quarter to nine, to a fanfare in my head, Mr Potts, the local bank manager would leave for work. And he had a Jag.

 A shiny green Jag with wire wheels that lived, like a caged beast, in his garage, never on the drive. Too often for my liking, a bank colleague would collect him, the Jag would stay in the garage, and I would slink, disappointed, back to my Frosties.  But if I was lucky and especially if it was summer, Mr. Potts would fire up the Jag. And although we were 10 houses away, we would hear its distinctive sound, somewhere between a snarl and a purr. To anyone else it just sounded like a powerful car.  But to a motor-obsessed four year old, this was not just a powerful car: this was a six cylinder, 3.4 litre Mark II Jaguar capable of 0-60 in 11.5 seconds and with a top speed over 100 mph. Grace, space and pace.

 Indeed this was the car for anyone interested in banking - not only did Mr Potts the bank manager drive a Jag, but so too did the likes of Buster Edwards, a man with an equally consuming interest in the workings of the average high street bank. The Mark II Jag was, after all, the favoured getaway car of most sixties villains.

 If I had to wait, fine. I could be patient if necessary. Even buy other cars too as I grew up. Sensible practical cars. Hatchbacks with cup holders and parking sensors. Family cars with folding seats and leaking sunroofs. All of these.

 But somewhere, garaged at the back of my mind all along was Mr Potts’s Jag.

 Now one of the more dispiriting diversions of PD is the need to declare the condition to the DVLA whose robotic, if understandable, response is to cancel your existing licence and replace it, at their discretion, with a short term licence, renewable on medical advice.

 This focusses the mind. Not ‘arf!

 When you realise your motoring days could end at any moment with a stroke of the DVLA’s pen, each motoring mile becomes more precious. Open roads become more liberating, traffic jams more frustrating. Somehow all motoring senses are heightened. So when the DVLA gave me my 3 year licence, I metaphorically consigned the boring cars to the bin. If I had only 3 years of motoring left, I was damn well going to enjoy them.

 It was Jag Time and I told the wife so.

 ‘Unimpressed’ barely covers Claire’s response.

 A few trenchant sentences left me in no doubt about my fiscal responsibilities as father and husband and where the Jag fitted into them. It didn’t.

No, the order of priorities was new kitchen, new bathroom, garden landscaping and so on. Buying a Jag was about seventieth on the starting grid of tasks, somewhere between unblocking the patio drain and neutering the guinea pig.

 By the time I had reassessed the grid, and weighed all the arguments, the Jag was back on pole.

Now the difficult part. How do you buy a Jag with only ten grand to spend? Assuming you exclude Buster’s fast track approach to Jag ownership.

 As it happens, one of the less widely publicised features of Jaguars is their jawdropping depreciation, a hangover from the sixties rustbucket days. While most German metal holds its worth like Chris Bonnington clinging to a rock face, merely turning the ignition key in a Jaguar seems inexplicably to halve its resale value. Very bad if you buy new. But very good if, like me, you can only afford to buy a used Jag.

 Even so, ten grand Jags are about as common as solar eclipses.

 I phoned the local Jag dealer and explained to the salesman that I needed an S-type, that curvy retro homage to the Mark II, for under ten grand. I could swear he put me on speakerphone.

 I didn’t think they were ever going to stop laughing.

 Slowly it dawned on the salesman that this wasn’t a prank call. I really did want an S-type for peanuts. He apologised and said he would look. It might take a while.

 “Don’t worry” I said “I’ve waited decades, what’s another few weeks”

 To be honest I didn’t expect to hear from him again but, as good as his word, he searched. Two weeks later, he found a 3 litre zircon blue S-type and brought it to my house to test drive. I heard it pull up.

 Suddenly it was 1961 and I was a four year old boy again.

 I sat in the driver’s seat and took in the acres of leather and forests of maple that had made this car. I turned the ignition and revved it. Ten minutes later we were sorting out the paperwork. A week later I was collecting it.

 “Any advice on driving?” I asked the dealer.

 “It’s a Jag” he said “Drive it like you stole it”

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