I’ve always been a die-hard member of the ‘old cars are better than new cars’ camp. Partly because I think that the offerings of brands in the 90s and early 00s were the peak of automotive flavour, but realistically more so because I don’t have the money to buy a new car. I will likely never experience the ownership of a fresh, untampered automobile.
However, in my current capacity at Car Throttle, I’m sometimes called upon by my colleagues to drive a new car for a period of time. In my head, it’s because they want me to offer an expert perspective on what a car is like, but in reality, it’s because I rarely make it to shoots without breaking down. I know, woe is me, right?
This unintended access to new cars has allowed me a realisation, though. One that challenges my love for the janky old shitboxes I’ve come to love. It’s reliability, or to be more accurate, the curse of knowledge that comes with it.
Take for instance my sister, who has spent the last 2 years driving around in a Mk4 VW Golf that makes the most ungodly noises known to man. The aux belt tensioner sounds like it’s moments from shearing off and heading into the stratosphere, there’s a misfire causing it to hunt at idle like something LS derived with a mean cam, and the rear windscreen wiper that cannot be halted tells of electrical problems on the horizon. I would have a meltdown driving it because someone like you or I know what those noises mean and know how imminent impending doom may be. Yet she drives it without a care in the world because they’re just ‘weird noises’ and she doesn’t know what they mean.
When I drive my £1500 E36 BMW 3-series down the road I’m constantly listening, constantly doing little checks to see if that noise from the rear is getting louder. If that little shift into second felt more clunky than the last. If that window just hesitated on its way down and the regulator is on its way out. Well, it’s an E36 so of course the regulator is on its way out but that’s beside the point. Every moment is spent doing little checks to make sure this car that has been mechanically harassed by countless different people before my ownership, actually makes it home.
Since driving our long-termer Suzuki Swift Sport, however, I’ve experienced an alien feeling unknown to me since I started driving. Peace. Calm. Every few minutes I find myself looking down at the coolant temp gauge and then thinking ‘Why am I looking at that? It’s a new car, why would I need to check if it’s about to overheat’. I spend my time driving, not worrying; it’s bliss.
Maybe I’m just a worrier when it comes to cars due to the number of times I’ve been sat on the side of the road furiously trying to fix what someone previous to me (I swear it was them, not me) has bodged to get this 30-year-old machine through its last MOT. While you’ll have to pry old cars out of my cold dead hands, I can’t pretend like it’s not refreshing to get where you need to go without worrying if you’ll make it there. Now then, who’s got a working E36 window regulator for me?