When I was 16 and still in school, I assumed I would be one of the first few people in my year to learn to drive. I had nothing to base this assumption on - other than cockiness.
Of course, my assumption was wrong. I didn’t start learning to drive until I was almost 20. February 2nd, 2011, I passed by test first time and fell in love with the freedom the roads offered me.
In the months before I learnt to drive, I was stupid (or lucky) enough to buy the car my brother was looking to sell. A year 2000 black 1.8l 3 door Ford Focus with a Miltek exhaust my brother fitted. Given that most peoples first cars in the UK is an ‘old banger’, I was ecstatic with this - I’d skipped the level of car that few people are proud of. Call it ego, sensible thinking or whatever you like - I was chuffed.
I loved this car. I never had any problems with it, it was cheap to run and didn’t stand out. It was comfy and quiet for the 4 hours I drove it each day going to work in West London and back.
This car only lasted until November 2011 though, when I was crashed into by a someone with an Audi A3 (remember that). They bent the chassis and the car had to be scrapped.
I went a month with no car and had to use crashes and trains to get to work. I knew I needed another car, and the search was on.
The search wasn’t long though. I remember having a light-bulb moment: I wanted a car that was reliable, nippy, looked good and was stronger that the Focus. I fell in love the 1998 3 door 1.8T Audi A3 8L with 150bhp. I found one on EBay, bought it and loved it.
The Audi was my first turbo car - it even made that adrenaline inducing ‘push’ wound when the turn dumped its excess air, after I fitted an aftermarket record valve anyway. It was also my first car with leather, and a Bose stereo. I was starting to get used to the luxuries cars can offer, even if they were in a 14 year old, slightly ageing box.
The car was older and had done a fair few miles, so I was adamant I’d take good care of it. I saved and had the bushed changed, I put the best tyres I could get on it, and the best brakes. I cleaned it weekly and regularly checked the fluids. It was well loved.
The car handled better than the Ford, was faster, and stopped better. It helped me fall in love with country lanes. Sadly, on a trip back from a conference, it dies a slow death; leaking oil for 30 miles between London and my house. It finally gave up 2 miles from home - the clutch and gearbox had both died. I left it at the road side, found the place it has been lifted to, signed some papers and never saw it again.
By this point, I was a freelancer, so had a little more money coming in. I had also been driving for a year & a half. I felt like I deserved a newer and nicer car. The next search was on.
A large portion of my searching was balancing engine power, looks and insurance costs. Turns out a 2003 BMW 318i coupé was the answer. I saved £2800 and almost as much for insurance and finally bought one.
I loved this car even more than the Ford or Audi. It was a much better looking car, and had even more toys than the Audi! Heated seats, buttons on the steering wheel and a better stereo. I was even more chuffed.
The car was filled with problems though. The cooling system leaked so much I was using more coolant than petrol until I fixed it. The timing chain snapped. The exhaust had a hole in. The wheels where badly curbed.
But, the interior was perfect, other than a small tear in the drivers seat. Everything worked and I could easily fit an aftermarket stereo which left be plug my phone in by USB so I could control it properly.
It was this car that made me - what I would call - a good driver. I learnt to handle drifts, purposefully or accidentally. It felt so much more engaging to drive. I knew that the front wheels were doing and knew how far I could push it before the arse let go, and even then I could safely bring it back.
I truly loved this car, but I wanted something faster. I wanted something that scared me a bit. I felt I had explored all the car had to offer me.
I spent a few weeks running the numbers and looking at other cars.
The night of the Ghost launch party in London, I was talking to someone about all this and they said “just do it man, just do it”. The next day, I did it.
I drove down a big car dealer near me, and bought a 2006 BMW 335i coupé.
I’ve been in cars with power before, but nothing like this. The 335i is a twin-turbo 3 litre straight 6 with a semi-automatic 6-speed gear box with paddles. Oh. My. God.
It doesn’t have any major features over my old BMW but it’s a nicer place to sit. The seats, though lacking in heating, are fully electronic, right down to the posture and side support. Its mirrors automatically dim when bring lights are behind, the side mirrors file in, has automatic wipers and lights, and stops like nothing else.
I vividly remember driving home from the dealer and flooring it on the motorway. Jesus fuck is that thin fast. It’s limited to 155mph — it’s not hard work to get it there.
I paid £10,000 for it, spread over 5 years. I thought a newer car would be less problematic. As per, my assumptions were wrong.
The high pressure fuel pump broke, the turbos developed a rattle, and the ECU died. Luckily, half of the cost to fix was covered under warranty, but my share was still expensive.
Tyres are £800 to replace them all, yearly road tax is £480 and I’m lucky to get 200 miles out of a full tank in town. But would I change it? Not a chance in hell.
The intoxicating nature of a powerful car is, well, intoxicating.
I often look back at my car history and wonder if I’d still have the Focus I started with, if it wasn’t crashed into. I can’t answer that absolutely, but I do know my choices and situations have left me wanting ever more powerful cars.
If I had the chance to go back and remake my decisions, I wouldn’t change anything.