by Paul Sweeney
Work was changing at the Cooperative Insurance Society and I was being asked to spend 3 days a week out on the road investigating claims, which I rather enjoyed. However, I felt it was only a matter of time before my used Cortina would let me down, which would have been awkward - so I joined the company car scheme.
This meant sacrificing some of my salary (the CIS was not a generous employer), then the maximum price of the car was a multiple of the pre-sacrifice figure. We were allowed to negotiate our own price with the dealers. I soon realised this meant I could only stretch to a small car, but I didn't care - it would be new!
I eagerly researched prices of Ford Fiestas and Escorts - they were surprisingly expensive - and also for completeness the Austin Metro; but I just said a flat "No" to that one. There really wasn't much else on the market apart from the aging Renault 5 - but I'd still not forgiven Renault for the R12 - and some Japanese cars I regarded with suspicion (probably foolishly).
Then I discovered that Vauxhall had just launched a new 'Supermini' to replace the Chevette. With fond memories of my old Viva HB, I decided to look into this new Vauxhall Nova, as it was named.
Well, it all stacked up; the spec was pretty good for its time, the styling was modern and sharp and road tests were full of approving comments. Honest John's web site says this about the Nova:
"The Nova (unlike the Chevette) was a grown-up offering with as much practicality as any of its rivals. The Nova - or Corsa as it was known elsewhere - was available with 1.0-, 1.2- and 1.3-litre engines from launch but the range rapidly expanded over the coming years.
Five-door hatchback was useful, two- and four-door saloons were forgettable, while the 1989 1.6-litre GTE was easily capable of seeing off the Ford Fiesta XR2. And that was the main accomplishment of the Spanish-built Nova - it beat the Ford Fiesta and Austin Metro on the road but never out of the showroom. But it paved the way for the phenomenally successful Corsa."
Not only did it seem to be a good little car, I wouldn't have to have the entry-level 1.0 model! I could afford to go for the 1.2 litre 3 door model - and that was enough to convince me. Next, I called a couple of local Vauxhall dealers and found one of them had two 1.2 hatches in stock in a choice of either brown or blue. Blue it was, then. The car looked exactly like this one apart from the colour:
I was in such a hurry to get my hands on the Nova, I didn't even take one for a test drive; I reasoned there was no point, since I had already decided I was having it! Just a few days later, I collected the car and she was - to all intents and purposes - mine.
It was an instant love affair with the Nova. Compared to the dreary old rot boxes I'd owned before she was light, modern, nippy, quiet and remarkably refined. It took me a while to get used to not being able to hear the engine at idle.
As mentioned in the last instalment of this tale, I have absolutely no idea what I did with my old Cortina. I just didn't care about it at all and never looked back.
So, I began driving the Nova for work - often racking up 250+ miles in one day - and it was an absolute delight. I had it for around 18 months and it never put a foot wrong. All I ever did was refill the fuel and put water in the screen washer.
One of the many insurance calls I made in my little Nova sticks in my mind to this day, so I will share it with you.
I had driven around 80 miles to a house in Stoke-on-Trent to visit a homeowner claiming for storm damage to a flat garage roof. It was this kind of thing:
As anyone who has had the misfortune to own property built this way will know, the bitumen/felt roof covering becomes brittle with age, when it cracks and allows rainwater to leak through into the chipboard beneath, which swells and finally collapses.
Normal life expectancy for one of these roofs was around 12 years back then. So, on arrival at the house, the friendly owner already had his extension ladder up against the garage so we could climb up for a look. The purpose was for me to look for evidence of damage caused by a storm - and I already had with me the weather report for the date it was claimed to have happened which was 'calm and overcast'.
As soon as I got up there, it was very clear to me that the roof was simply at the end of it's life and needed replacement. Put simply, this was not 'Storm damage' as covered by insurance policies, it was, "You have a mouldy old felt roof that leaks" time! I had learned from experience not to tell the guy the bad news while we were still standing on his garage roof, so I climbed carefully back down to terra firma and waited for him to join me.
Once he had done so, I gently and politely explained the above to him and told him that the insurance company would not be paying for his new roof. He quietly said, "OK" and we bid one another farewell. As I started walking towards the Nova parked about 50-75 yards away (I never parked too close just in case!), I heard a kind of strangled yelp and turned to see the man had grabbed his extension ladder and was starting to run towards me, twirling it like a huge baton above his head and screaming incoherently in my direction.
I didn't need to be told to get out of there and ran towards my car as quickly as I could, burdened as I was with a heavy leather brief case, camera and other tools of my trade.
I made it to the car, jumped in and drove straight towards the guy fairly rapidly.
He jumped out of my way and stood watching as I continued in the direction of his house, where I could see his wife waving frantically at me to stop.
I wasn't daft enough to do that, but I did slow down a little and open my car window enough to hear her calling out in rather a posh voice, "I'm so sorry - he gets like this sometimes!" Even in the heat of the moment, I couldn't help grinning to myself as I drove away. The company never heard from the man again - he even renewed his house policy with us the following year!
Before too much longer the company told me I should change the car for a new one as the business mileage alone was 26,000 in less than 18 months. That suited me, as my then wife had recently given birth to our first child, so a bigger car would be handy. As I still liked the Nova so much, I decided to go for the new-ish Astra model, which I assumed would be the same - but bigger.
More of that next time.
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