20 January 2016

Lessons In Love

Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with? I have, and her name was Agnetha. She may have looked somewhat cold and severe, but beneath that inscrutable skin beat a heart of passion and strength. I loved being with her. I adored her from that dark, wet night in Doncaster when we first met, I loved the sense of adrenaline I felt from just that first encounter, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her for days. It’s a shame she was a psychopath.

Agnetha is, of course, my SAAB 9000 2.3 Turbo. I spent just over two years with her, and while everything was sweet at first she soon unveiled her dark side – no amount of restorative therapy ever managed to reverse the repeat trend of breakdowns.

We all have the odd automotive skeleton in our closets – cars we should have bought, cars we shouldn’t have sold, and – in this case – the car I shouldn’t have bought. My SAAB was the best reason why you shouldn’t buy a car on a dark wet December night without a proper inspection. Especially one which, just 6 months earlier, had been languishing in a hedge in Leicestershire. It was, and still is, in gorgeous condition – as the photograph at the top of this column shows. I bought it after failing to find a nice Alfa 164 – I needed to get my beloved Montego off the road for winter and this was available, taxed, cheap, and interesting. As a worst case I’d run it until the tax was up and sell it, hopefully breaking even.

I hadn’t counted on its ability to charm me like few other cars can. I hadn’t counted on its ability to soak up a 600 mile afternoon, pausing only to refuel. I hadn’t counted on its ability to do its duty quite as effectively as it could. Very soon I became smitten; nothing else I’ve driven before or since accelerated in quite the same way as dear Agnetha, and those seats are still among the most comfortable I’ve used.

What I hadn’t counted on was her chronic unreliability. You name it, and that 9000 broke it – from the wastegate actuator rod 2 days after purchase, via main coolant hoses to coil packs. The latter provided a mildly terrifying incident in which, immediately after overtaking a lorry on the M62, the car cut out and refused to re-fire. Cue an emergency dive to the hard shoulder and a lorry driver who certainly saw a funny side to things.

After these incidents and more, though, I loved Agnetha dearly. And I kept mending her problems, waving goodbye to hopes of holidays and my Bentley Turbo R savings pot in a desperate attempt to keep my steel starship going. And then she began to drop second gear. And finally, on the way back from a photoshoot in October, the gearbox cured this problem by jamming resolutely into first.

Should I mend her? Should I sell her? Should I scrap her – perform automotive euthanasia on a beloved companion who had never been entirely well? So many enthusiasts have been in the same position, driven to the brink of sanity itself by a car which won’t give it a rest and work for a change. I’d resorted to the purchase of a Citroen XM as a more reliable daily proposition by this point, and the SAAB was my backup vehicle when that succumbed to the odd French foible. I didn’t need it, and yet I didn’t have the heart to throw it to the wolves in such a state. It had engine donor written all over it.

Agnetha and I are no longer together, she’s with a friend of mine who will replace the gearbox, and who I’m sure will love and cherish her. I hope she’s rather better behaved for him – though frankly after the number of parts I’ve replaced I would be very surprised if she wasn’t. To those who’ve never made a motoring mistake, I doff my cap. You are the wise owls of the classic car scene – you don’t let emotion get in the way of your hobby, and you don’t emerge a shadow of what you were when you started. But you miss out on the rollercoaster. Those ups and downs – those fallings out and makings up – the pain when things go wrong – that’s love. And why do we run classic cars at all, if it isn’t because we love them?

It’s all too easy to think in terms of the ones which got away – the cars you couldn’t cure, the cars you will always regret moving on. But there’s another way to look at it – look back at the good times and enjoy those instead. After all; ‘tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

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