According to my well-thumbed dictionary, an obsession is “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person's mind,” which pretty much sums up my lifelong relationship with the internal combustion engine and the vehicles it powers. My second birthday was apparently spent playing with a Dinky bubble car whilst more expensive and eye-catching presents lay ignored, much to the annoyance of my parents. By the age of 5, I was able to name virtually every car on the road, and with the newly acquired ability to read I began voraciously consuming anything and everything about motorised transport.
At 16, with a crisp, new provisional licence in my hand, I wobbled forth onto the Queen's highway astride the must-have two wheeler of the time, a Yamaha FS1E. That first love was intense, but short-lived, as the passing of another year opened up the possibility of bigger and faster machines, and a large number passed through my hands in a very short period.
The acquisition of a car licence merely increased my options when it came to spending all my disposable income on vehicles, and I started with a Citroën Ami 8 – a more comfortable and quicker relation of the 2CV. A huge mileage was promptly racked up forging a respect and admiration for these little cars, which has stayed with me to this day. It also gave me the opportunity to learn about mechanics, as money spent on garage bills was clearly a waste when it could be poured into the tank and burnt instead. Soon I was twirling the spanners not only on my car, but on those of other local enthusiasts as well.
The obsession well and truly had a grip by then, and I clocked up tens of thousands of miles criss-crossing Europe visiting far flung rallies and events, before deciding to leave a well-paid job for the insecurity of self employment fixing cars. The plus side, though, was being able to get behind the wheel of a huge variety of makes and models thus far denied to me. I initially concentrated on Citroëns, with the spartan pleasures of 2CV vans and saloons regularly interspersed by the swish luxury of a DS, and, on one occasion, an SM. My addiction became common knowledge, and soon other classic cars were arriving at the door – I have fond memories of MGCs, Costello V8 Bs, Spitfires, V6 Capris, VW Beetles and Vans, a PL17 Panhard, Peugeot 304s and 504s, and many more, including classics in the making such as the 205 and Golf GTis. Fleet contracts ensured that I had regular time working on Transits, Mercs and Ford Cargos as well, just to ensure diversity. Away from work I kept a small but ever-changing fleet of motorcycles, which fed my continuing need for two-wheeled action.
All things must pass, though, and after 15 years of such privileged pleasure a combination of factors spelt the end of my days on the tools. But every change in life comes with its own opportunities, and I decided to test the water and see if my accumulated experiences would be of interest to the classic car press. Fortunately they were, and I wrote articles and restored cars and motorcycles for Classic Car Mart, Practical Classics, Classic Motorcycle Mechanics, and many others. Buoyed by this, I approached Rod Grainger at Veloce to see if he would be interested in a buyer’s guide for my all-time favourite, the 2CV. He was, and the rest, as they say, is history. More guides followed, along with restoration manuals, some of which I have had the pleasure of seeing in other languages sitting on foreign bookshelves.
I would like to say that age has tempered my passion, but sadly nothing could be further from the truth. I calculated recently that my lifetime’s association with vehicles has seen me clock up nearly a million miles, with around 200,000 of those covered on the Continent. Enough for any man, you might think, but the fire still burns strong: purely on a whim, I recently bought an old 2CV and hauled it around the back roads of the Balkans for eight weeks.
Is there no cure, or must I wait for the petrol to run out to finally release me from this affliction?
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