Every car I have ever driven, part 1

Peugeot 309 1.1 Trio a.k.a “Earnest”

my first car, a hand me down from my mum. Such a dependable car, despite the gutless engine. It had green seat belts (yuck) and where every other car I’ve driven had a rev counter it had a clock, so I had to learn to listen to the engine. Roomy, especially the boot when the seats were down – always the designated car to bring the Christmas tree home in.

It’s the second-best handling car I’ve ever driven, just so wonderfully progressive. It would always let you know, in detail, just how close to the limit you were, and it had a lovely lift-off oversteer characteristic that I used to scare my Dad with when I still had L plates. To start with Dad took me to Hixon aerodrome (now fenced off sadly) to drive up and down so I got a feel for the controls, and learnt how to change gear. I think all learners should learn to change gear away from public roads.

My first major solo journey was to Silverstone for the 2001 British Grand Prix, the day after I passed my test. I hadn’t got the money for a campsite so I slept in the car. I hid contraband in the cavity behind the radio. One of the finest sights I’ve ever seen, something I’ll remember fondly as long as I live, was Jean Alesi driving his Prost Peugeot in a damp and meaningless practise session. That car was dancing, just dancing. Hakkinen won, one of his last wins in a McLaren that sounded differently depending on whether it was coming towards you or going away from you. Something to do with resonance in the diffuser, but I digress…

I remember practising hand-brake turns in a snowy car park. One of the heater controls broke so you had to switch the knobs about to change settings. Slightly prone to overheating. The radio aerial came loose and used to swing round pointing forward under heavy braking.

Stuffed it in a hedge a month after I passed my test – it still started first time, as it did every time. I wasn’t terribly happy with life at that point in time and got in the habit of driving very fast round the country lanes just outside town. The lanes are rather Nurburgring-like, all green hedges and changes of camber. There’s a point on Tixall Lane where if you hit 70mph you can get the car airborne, and though I wouldn’t dream of being so irresponsible now I must have done that jump a dozen or more times in Earnest.

The crash happened as I came into a tightening off-camber corner with puddles on the outside. I got sideways, over corrected, corrected again but ended up in the hedge. Fantastic reflexes but not enough experience. A valuable lesson learnt, and I think all boy racers could do with a small injury-free shunt early on to calm them down.

The perfect first car, so much character. I think I drove it for about three or four years until one of the rear hubs seized and it was too expensive to fix. Seeing it waiting to be scrapped broke my heart. I’ve still got the spare key and owners manual somewhere. Really very fond of this car.

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