My life in cars
Whilst recalling my recent drive in my cherished Lotus Exige, Bumblebee, I couldn't help but cast my mind back to where it all started for me with cars and how I reached the stage of owning my dream car. Throughout my 11 years lapping her majesty's highways, I have never owned a car for more than 2 years. Cars are my vice and weakness.
My 4 wheeled journey started with Simba, a black 2001 Fiat Seicento 'Sporting'. Powered by 1.1 litres of frail Italian muscle, primed to expire at any moment. A leaking fuel tank one of the many foibles of this particular car.
Nevertheless, the learner plates were slapped on at every opportunity, as far as I was concerned they were the only thing separating me and Francois Delecour. One of my long suffering parents would bravely endure the terror of accompanying me while I took my first steps on the never ending learning curve of driving. "Slow down Peter!" became a frequent phrase in my parents vocabulary.
Miraculously, I passed my driving test at the first time of asking. Filling me with an abundance of misplaced confidence. Learner plates firmly in the bin, I ran to my little Fiat, pulled out the drive and straight onto the rev limiter in 1st gear. Poor Simba deserved a more caring owner than an 18 year old Peter but I comfort myself in the knowledge that his days were numbered anyway given the appalling craftsmanship applied during his construction. Just 2 weeks later, an altercation with a tipper van sealed Simba's fate on the scrap heap. Game over.
Mercifully, I managed to get back on the road before too long. Next up on the Peter MacKay motoring conveyor belt? A Citroen Saxo 1.1 Forte. In gold. By this point I was commuting back and forth to college and transporting friends around, not breaking any speed records but living out the young, naive driver stereotypes to the full. 4 people and their golf clubs all fitted into the cavernous interior of this slice of French mediocrity, quite impressive I thought. Predictably, 'Sabine' as she became known, met her end a few months later. My driving career was in tatters. No car, no money and a track record certain to sound the boy racer red alert at any insurance company in the land.
Undeterred by my earlier calamities, I desperately tried to accumulate funds to acquire a car to get me moving again. At the turn of my 19th birthday, I was nearly there. Driving through Dunkeld with my Mum, with me relegated to the passenger seat, we passed a small garage, Birnam Autopoint. Perched outside was to be my next car, a 2000 Renault Clio. Sounds pretty uninspiring you may say? You are correct but to a 19 year old boy who watched at least one Fast and the Furious film a week, it was a dream.
This particular example, a 1.2 litre, 3 door with velour seats had a few choice alterations which, to my mind, transformed it's appeal. Firstly, was the exhaust. Reminiscent of an open dustbin, awkwardly wedged under the left rear of the car, it was far from elegant. The aural consequences of this modification were dramatic, the car sounded more akin to a Subaru Impreza than a leggy French hatchback.
Of course, the pace generated by the car was comically slow but the soundtrack was pure rally car. Perfect. Finished with a sparco gear shifter, large rear wing and tinted windows, I was absolutely smitten.
And so, the delicate negotiations with my parents(my landlords!) began. Convincing Mum, always more forgiving of my driving ambition, was tough but achievable. Dad on the other hand? I still don't quite know how I managed it, let's just leave it at that.
I still fondly recall the day travelling to Dunkeld to pick up my droning red Clio, overwhelmed with joy. To this day, I have driven few louder cars. To anyone else, the car probably seemed juvenile but I was so immensely proud of it. When my father suggested that we replace the deafening exhaust with the much quieter original, I was less than pleased. Thankfully I managed to avoid this castration of my growling Clio.
Twice a week, I meticulously washed the car and applied a level of care I have shown to no other car. This humble Renault was a saviour and my route back to my love for driving.
As will become a theme, I get itchy feet quickly. Always looking for the next car, yearning for more speed. After a summer of travelling the country flogging booze at events, driving transit vans through the night and working on commission in tourist shops, I was ready to make the next leap up my ladder of motoring. My next car would be far more familiar, my Mother's much loved 2004 Skoda Fabia VRS.
Often, I am asked where my love of cars and driving came from. Well, you may be surprised to know that this was actually my Mother's influence. Taking me to watch Malcolm Wilson roar through the Perthshire forests in his Michelin Pilot Escort Cosworth or watching Colin McRae win the 1995 WRC title together has undoubtedly left an impression on me. This influence didn't stop there though, oh no.
My Mother lives life in a hurry. And her driving style reflects this. My favourite activity of the week was on a Friday afternoon when Mum would collect me in our Fabia VRS. Driving at warp speed back to our home in Auchterarder across the country lanes of Strathearn, Mum ensured I made it to my weekly golf competition on time. By this point, I had also figured out that when Mum was angry, she drove like Michelle Mouton. Therefore, I must confess to deliberately angering her in order to unlock this flat out driving. Informing her of my lacklustre academic performance usually did the trick.
I enjoyed 18 happy months, 35000 miles and only one small excursion into a field in the cosy bucket seat of my Fabia VRS. 500 mile days around England visiting customers were made far more bearable by the punch of torque delivered from the TDI engine. Nowadays, I miss my little Fabia but at the time, after turning 21, I was ready to go faster again.
After the sale of a case of rare wine, laid down by father in my year of birth, funds were gathered to cover the mammoth insurance bill for my next car. A 2005, 3.2 litre, V6 Audi TT. At 21, I had no business driving such a car. Nevertheless, the advantageous rates for long term residency at the B&B of Mum and Dad certainly helped balance the books of feeding my expensive vice. Use of a transit van for work and commission based remuneration both contributed to the perfect storm allowing such a young daft lad to own such a fast and thirsty car.
With the heavy V6 block mounted over the front wheels and budget tyres on each corner, the TT was never a particularly engaging car to drive. Audi's revolutionary DSG paddle shift gearbox didn't improve matters either.
However, the TT had a few tricks up it's sleeve. Firstly, the soundtrack from the sonorous V6 motor, shared with the Golf R32, was gorgeous. I never tired of the howl from the naturally aspirated, 3200cc engine.
Secondly, believe it or not, I can report that all four participants of a double date can travel together in an Audi TT. Perhaps not in comfort but the novelty certainly helps to break the ice.
My next move along my meandering motoring journey, ranks high up the list of my worst ever decisions. Simply, I had the straight choice between a limited edition RB320 Subaru Impreza, a boyhood dream car, or a diesel Audi A5. To this day, I will never forgive myself for choosing the latter.
Lessons learned in the horror year of Audi A5 ownership? I could write a book, however I will try to summarise. Never, ever, choose a car based on how it makes you look. Always choose a car based on how it makes you feel. Choosing a car because it is more sensible or more frugal is a false economy . You will want to rid yourself of the car as quick as possible, falling victim to chronic depreciation.
My A5 was trouble from day one. Heading to the office, keen to show off my flash new wheels, the exhaust fell off. On arrival to the garage, the mechanic declared he had never seen wheels that were so out of balance. A few days later, my driveway was coated in oil from a loose sump plug. It was a disaster and not conducive to showing off to your friends.
Eventually, I threw in the towel and sold the car at a huge loss after just a year. If I had chosen the Subaru RB320, this appreciating classic would have turned a profit for me.
Once rid of the awful Audi, my fortunes transformed. Thanks to a wonderfully cheap lease deal, I ordered a brand new 2014 Mk7 Golf R for the next 2 years.
Delivery day was the only date I was concerned by for months but eventually that bright, May morning came. Much to my delight, my car was alone on the transporter and therefore arrived on the strike of 9am. There it was, a tornado red Golf R. My Golf R.
Two days later I took my new toy down to Fife to visit the other responsible party for my affliction for cars and motorsport. My Grandfather always beamed with pride every time I arrived in a new car. Despite having recently turned 80, I was determined to show him the capabilities of not only my new 300 horse power beast but also my perceived ability too.
We to head to Anstruthers famous Fish and Chip shop for supper. On the way, I would encounter the ideal roads to drive the 4 wheel drive Golf flat out. What followed in those 20 minutes or so, remains my favourite memory with my Grandfather.
Still blissfully unaware of the Golf R's ridiculously impressive performance, the drive was a step into the unknown. What I discovered was a level of performance I couldn't digest. Every liberal application of the throttle resulted in the speedometer needle reaching levels that previously required a long run up.
One particular corner on the route remains etched in my memory. An uphill left hand bend heading towards the village of Peat Inn. Approaching at a velocity I simply wasn't accustomed to, I turned in, laying all my faith in a car that had been in my possession for less than 48 hours. I needn't have worried, the Golf held the abrasive tarmac like a barnacle and shot off up the hill. I will never forget Grandad giggling away in delight. Even now when I pass through this corner, I think of my Grandfather and I also continue to struggle to understand how I made it round that bend that day.
Never did I think I would own the same car twice but so impressive was the Golf R that I ended up ordering a midnight blue example for another 2 years.
Despite the capability of my two Mk7 Golf Rs, my now characteristic itchy feet were desperate to advance again. You may be thinking when will this end? I wish I knew.
In July 2017, I placed an order for a brand new Audi RS3, to arrive in May 2018. An agonising wait followed over the coming months, made worse when the car launched to the public in September 2017. Each and every YouTube video starring the new RS3 was studied and replayed on multiple occasions. Desperation was setting in come January.
Whilst on business in Montreal, I awoke from a jet lag interrupted slumber to a number of voicemail messages. "Leave me alone" was my surly response to all of them but one. Dundee Audi, perhaps keen to make a quarterly target, offered to deliver my new RS3 early and buy me out of the remaining four months of my lease contract. Returning their call immediately, the deal was agreed.
3 weeks later, I was heading home in my brand new 5 cylinder, 400 horsepower monster which had swiftly been christened Michelle. Named after the aforementioned Michelle Mouton, a hero of mine who won world rallies in an Audi Quattro in the 1980's. If you haven't heard of this fine lady, search her name on YouTube. To say she was ahead of her time would be a significant understatement.
A Group B rally car soundtrack, mind bending straight line pace, spacious cabin and understated looks, the RS3 was the ultimate have your cake and eat it car.
Thankfully, the other apartments in my block have a relatively high turnover of rental tenants. Those who stick around will slowly but surely begin to despise me. Why? I don't seem to ever buy quiet cars. My regular, cold early morning drives to the airport involve 5 or so minutes of furious scraping, removing the frosty deposits of a Scottish winters night before my journey can commence. Combine this with a 2.5 litre, 5 cylinder motor linked to two burbling exhaust pipes and most of my postcode twitch their curtains and scowl. I can't blame them.
So, how did Bumblebee come into the picture? Well, circumstances played in my favour once more.
Although, the RS3 was deeply impressive on acceleration, any of my favourite Scottish country roads would always highlight it's shortfalls. Typical Audi traits of too much weight at the front of the car and lifeless steering sapped enjoyment when pointing the Ingolstadt machine down a twisty road.
Luckily, personal circumstance had changed and allowed me to consider a two seat sports car once again. For years, the Lotus Exige S had been the definitive car I aspired to but always seemed so out of reach for a multitude of reasons.
Resisting the temptation to go for a test drive was impossible. On return home from my drive in a yellow Exige S V6 'Club Racer' I sat trying to crack the code to ownership of this car I so yearned to possess.
Slumped on the sofa, I glanced over to my collection of Scotch whisky which I have accumulated over the years. Instantly, a light bulb illuminated. Figuring that I had more open bottles of whisky than was safe to consume in a lifetime, the sealed bottles were fair game. Each and every bottle was grabbed from the shelf and price checked, the potential 'Bumblebee fund' building at a pleasing rate.
At lunch the next day, I filled my soon to be sold RS3 with my entire whisky collection and consigned the bottles to auction. A few weeks later, I was roaring all over Perthshire in a car I thought I would never own.
Whilst the opportunity presented itself to own my dream car, I couldn't allow myself to let the chance pass by. Throughout the last 10 months, I have never regretted diving in to buy my Lotus and I won't need to top up my whisky shelf any time soon either.
If there is a car you have also longed for and you have the chance, don't be sensible, go for it.