by Paul Sweeney
So, the Renault had to go. I made my way into Birmingham and spent an entire day touring grim used car yards that mostly presented their cars amidst the same depressing vistas of stained, crumbling concrete, grey skies and high prices.
I concluded I wouldn't find anything decent that I could afford at a dealer, so turned my attention instead to the private used car ads. Yes, this was pre-internet and the only way was to buy a local newspaper and scan the classified ads - which were often mis-categorised. Many a 'find' could be had by looking in the wrong places!
Eventually after much circling of increasingly unlikely 'possibles' and after discarding all the cars I actually found appealing (Rovers, Jaguars etc) on the grounds they would cost too much to run (the ghost of my Dad at work there!) I found an ad for a MK4 Cortina 1.6L - dull, British and thoroughly normal. Perfect!
So I dialled the number and the call was answered by a pleasant-sounding woman who said her husband was out of town but she would happily show me the car.
So off I went to (I think) somewhere along the A5 towards Walsall ... and found the car parked outside a fairly tidy semi-detached house. Quite promising - so I rang the doorbell. The woman answered and said I could test drive the car but she would reverse it off the drive for me as "It's a bit tricky". I wasn't going to argue as that would give me a chance to check the exhaust for smoke (I was alone so couldnt do that and drive too). All was well when she started the engine, then I stepped aside as she revved the engine then suddenly shot backwards off the drive.
Unfortunately, she continued backward straight across the road, stopping only when the car collided quite forcibly with a brick wall on the opposite side. There was damage. She drove forward again, parking neatly on the correct side of the road then got out, asking, "Do you want to take her for a spin now?" as if nothing had happened. Stifling a giggle, I replied "Actually I don't think I will, thank you" and got out of there as fast as I could! I've often wondered what she told her husband.
My next attempt to acquire a Cortina was similarly unsuccessful. Again a housewife showed me the car (housewives - remember those? That dates these stories - this was back in the days when Grandparents were allowed to enjoy their retirement in peace rather than being seen as free childcare providers).
After a visual inspection and starting the engine, I was satisfied that the car was worth a test drive. So, I got settled behind the wheel, checked the gearbox and moved away..... all of 250 yards down the street, when an almighty CLANG stopped me in my tracks. I pulled over to the side of the road and became aware of small children pointing and laughing from their front gardens .... and what the blue blistering blazes was that noise? Fortunately it stopped when I took the key out of the ignition to investigate what was causing such merriment in the streets of not-even-slightly- sunny Birmingham.
I stepped away from the car to see the entire Cortina exhaust system (all but the manifold) lying some yards behind the car in the street. The damn thing had fallen off, complete!
I made my way on foot the 250 yards or so to the seller's front door. She must have seen me approaching, because she opened the door as I walked up the garden path. She looked extremely embarrassed, so without exchanging a single word, I placed the Cortina keys in her hand, smiled weakly, turned and walked away.
Having had such an eventful and really quite amusing time I wasn't about to give up, so my car search continued - but that's for next time....
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