by Paul Sweeney
I'd had enough of private sellers and strange happenings so ventured out across 1980s West Midlands once more in search of used car dealers - and this time, I went looking for the smaller, "corner" dealers where I hoped prices might be lower.
I soon found a small car yard with a red Cortina for sale which looked to be in pretty good condition. However, it happened to be parked next to one of these:
I had never considered a Mirafiori before, but it looked somewhat more interesting than the Ford. It had a twin cam engine with an alloy head too and sounded rather tasty when the salesman started it. And it was a little cheaper than the Cortina.
Very tempting indeed, a bit of Italian style. The legendary Triumph Harold was Italian-designed, so they couldn't be all bad, I reasoned. "Go on" urged the wicked voice in my head, "just take it for a little ride .. you know you want to". And I did want to ... but then the Ghost of Johnny Foreigners Past came into my mind ... the now hated Renault 12. That hadn't gone at all well ... and everyone knows all Italian cars are rubbish, right? Best stick with what I knew - the Cortina.
And so it came about that I bought the Cortina, telling myself it was the sensible buy. I had little excitement or enthusiasm for the car even while buying it, and that was to remain true throughout my ownership of the MK4.
Truth be told, I remember very little about it. I have no recollection whatsoever of driving it, but I do recall that I briefly used it for work. At the time, I worked as an insurance investigator and often had to make house calls to claimants.
One day I was to visit a large house on the outskirts of Coventry; the house had been burgled and I was sent to investigate. The home owners were wealthy scrap metal dealers; I drove through a pair of somewhat pretentious double gates onto a circular gravel drive in my red Cortina, which crunched its way pleasingly across the driveway. There was a Rolls-Royce of some sort (sorry but they all look the same to me) parked outside a garage to one side, and even a small roundabout directly outside the front door of the house. Not quite the Trevi Fountain, but you get the idea.
I parked at the side near the Rolls, considerately trying to make sure my car wasn't in anyone's way. I walked over and rang the doorbell, which was answered by the lady of the house, a well-dressed but very common woman smoking a cigarette from one of those silver holders reminiscent of Hollywood movie stars from the silent age. I introduced myself and asked if my car was alright where I had parked it (meaning was it out of the way?).
She looked across at my Ford and uttered the immortal words, "I don't think anyone will bother with that thing here, do you?" (meaning it wasn't a nice enough car to be stolen when her Roller was nearby). I may not have been particularly proud of my Cortina but that one snobby remark cost her dearly on her claim settlement - not that she ever knew it!
My only other memory of that car was when it failed the MOT test - the rear brakes needed new shoes. I was confident I could do it myself easily enough, and jacked the car up on the drive outside my house. More than two hours later, I was at the end of my tether, still trying to fit the new brake shoes. Eventually, I got so annoyed and frustrated that I jumped up and delivered a massive flying kick to the drivers door, yelling something ridiculous like, "Let that be a lesson to you, you absolute bast**d piece of cr*p!"
I kicked the Cortina so hard I dented the door and had in fact broken my big toe. I sat cross-legged on the front lawn nursing said toe (it was already starting to hurt) when I became aware of much giggling from next door - the neighbours had watched my entire hissy fit unfold, much to my embarrassment! "Oh Paul" they laughed, "you're so funny when you are cross!" "Hmmmm ... is that so?" I seethed silently.
Not long after this - early in 1984 - I had been using my car increasingly for business use, so decided to take up the offer of a company car from my employer. As a result, the Cortina was consigned to history. To this day and try as I might, I have absolutely no idea how I disposed of that car. It had made so little impression on me that I just didn't care about it at all.
I wonder what stories I would be telling now if I had instead bought the Mirafiori? Tales of terrifyingly fast corrosion and unreliable electrics, probably.
Next time - my very first new car...
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