One of the nice things about owning a car is being able to fiddle with it at the weekend. Even a simple job like an oil change can be stretched out with a few mates, some tea and a lot of nodding. Regular readers will know that up until recently my cars have fallen into the ‘fix it at home with a spanner and a hammer’ school of motor repairs, indeed I have spent many a happy hour on the drive with a few like minded mates offering advice while a stubborn nut refused to come undone due to years of inactivity.
My new car is a wonder, but half of the fun has been stripped away, and for all its newness and clever computery bits it cannot make up the fact that Ford have denied me fifty percent of what owning a car really is all about
First off, it was made in 2006, so most of it is still screwed together in a reasonable state, strictly speaking this is not Fords fault as on the whole Ford cars are well put together, and if you look hard enough can be great fun. Secondly and most importantly, opening the bonnet reveals acres of plastic with all the moving bits and bits that could potentially break hidden out of sight under a ton of yet more plastic covers and computer sensors. Where is the fun in that?
When I was a kid (some would say I still am) one of my joys were discovering that the Dinky or Corgi that my Mum periodically bought me had opening doors and bonnet and I would yank open the tiny door and marvel at the tiny gearstick and even nano sized pedals that they had some how managed to craft from plastic, but not even Corgi’s clever and almost magical lighting system that worked if you covered a small section of the rear window…
(Look, if you are too young to know what the hell I am talking about then get on to the interweb and Google it. Frankly, like not owning an Alfa, not owning a Corgi or Dinky toy makes you less of a petrolhead, I suggest Ebay, and for the cool lights try searching for Corgi’s Buick Riviera, Rover 2000 TC and the best one of the lot, the VW ‘Toblerone’ van)
… Not even witnessing the lights coming on could take away my disappointment as I prised open the often painted shut bonnet and found that the engine detail was basically a die-cast rectangle with a lick of silver or black paint. Memories of those heady childhood days came flooding back as I peeked under the bonnet of my new Fiesta and found that yup, plastic covers as far as the eye can see, all the interesting stuff hidden away.
The more astute of you will say ‘Just take them off then you idiot!’ but I did that and what do I find underneath? Mogadon in metal. It was so boring under there that if I ever get hit by a bout of insomnia, all I need do is open the bonnet of the Fiesta and I’m heading for dreamland. Engines are wonderful and exciting things, they make a lot of noise and best of all can make you throw up with excitement if fiddled with in the right way. They are alive, things of beauty that should not be reduced to skulking under plastic covers and designed to look like parts from a washing machine. Honestly the 1.6 Duratec I have bolted to the front wheels of my car is a technical marvel, it pulls me along at 70mph, giving me 60mpg all day long. It starts everyday on the button, it sounds like a cement mixer at idle, but by some sorcery its virtually silent when the car is moving and generally does what its meant to do perfectly, but oh dear god is it boring.
Have a peek under the bonnet of a V12 XJS, or a Corvette and you will find something astonishingly beautiful, if not exactly economical, but beauty and economy can go hand in hand. Honda make some stunning engines, their B16 not only looks great but sounds wonderful and things get even better when you find one nestling comfortably and sexily in the chassis of an EK9. Staying with Honda, their amazing K20 with its red painted cam covers shout that if mixed with a large dose of Nurburgring and skilled driver it will turn excitement up to 11 and your bowels instantly to water. From the first time you see it you know this engine will go as good as it looks. Moving away from Honda, but sticking in Japan, Toyota make a wonderful engine that it uses in the MR2 and the legendary AE86 called the 4A-GE, its beautifully crafted and just revs and revs and revs…
All of these are small, powerful and economical but can be worked on with normal tools, there is not a plastic cover in sight, all of their raw beauty is on display, making you want to open the bonnet as much as you open the drivers door and invite your mates to look inside and take pictures.