Other Cars

Sceptre & Eclat

This page will inevitably be amended as I remember other cars or get the facts straightened-out by others. Some (well, most) cars overlap with others, so it's never going to be strictly chronological. I've omitted company cars and vans, but may add them as a separate section one day. All photos are mine, hence the poor quality. No, I have no idea why I insisted on using black and white film for so long.

Renault 12 TS

My first car. Given to me by my stepmother after it'd decayed beyond the point she wanted to drive it. Had a dodgy MOT for years - if you opened all four doors at the same time it was difficult to close them again due to body sag. I loved it, as everyone does with their first car. It was fairly quick and handled quite well, but that didn't stop me spinning it the first day I had it. I then crashed it into the back of another car whilst trying to race a motorbike (a very stupid idea, that). So it went from faded green and rust to the same with one blue front wing. And wooden bumpers, as I was a big fan of Custom Car magazine. That wasn't enough, though, so I painted the nose yellow about 4 inches in from the front. Was known as 'The Mobile Ashtray' because it always had a layer of ash on the floor (I couldn't find the ashtray whilst driving). Many great memories of this car, not all of them to do with motoring. Eventually the engine expired and, since even the dodgy MOT man refused to look at it by then, it had to be scrapped. Fortunately, no photos survive.

Simca 1100

A genuine heap. Bought for £30 from the family of an American who'd hired it from a 'rent-a-wreck' company in Scotland and then decided to purchase it and bring it south. Pop-riveted panels all over the outside and reddish-colour shed paint. Soon after I bought it the starter motor went so it had to be parked on hills to start. Went quite well, though. Was passed on to my brother - might have been his first car - who crashed it. It then had two white doors on one side which, since they were from an earlier Simca with differently-placed locks, had to be held closed with a bungee cord. Class.

Reliant Rebel (saloon)

Reliant Rebel saloon

Bought from a bloke at work for a nominal fee - he'd parked it around the back of the warehouse after losing his licence, and I was the first to show any interest. For those that don't know, the Rebel is a four-wheeled version of the three-wheeled Regal; 750cc of (Austin 7-based) raw power, rear-wheel drive, a sturdy chassis and fibreglass body. Not at all fast but excellent handling. Driving it was all about momentum - don't ever, ever, brake. Great fun, in its own way, especially out-braking (i.e. not braking) when playing with more powerful but heavier cars whilst negotiating roundabouts. Strangely good in the snow as well, maybe too light to get bogged-down, and the best way ever to learn how to control a rear-wheel drive car when grip is in short supply. The saloon Rebel also had an excellent short-throw remote gear linkage, a million miles away from the 'magic wand' of other Reliants and most other cars of its type. I still think about buying another one, which is always a good sign - sometimes less can be more.

Reliant Scimitar SE5A

Reliant Scimitar SE5A

My first Scimitar. Known as 'The Purple Turkey' due to its colour and a number plate which started 'TRK'. Autobox, Cobra bucket seats and a full-length Webasto sunroof. Went and handled well but looked a bit scruffy - I'll always remember turning up at the late Don Pither's Scimpart premises outside Gloucester and him looking at me and the car as if we'd just crawled out from under a rock. Not too far from the truth as it happens. He was still quite happy to take my money, mind. Car was eventually sold to a bunch of squaddies who were on leave and wanted a toy to play with.

Mercedes 220 (mid-70's type)

Mercedes 220

I didn't actually own this - it was my brother's - but I drove it quite a bit. Typical worn old Merc, in a particularly nice dark brown, with Kojak remould tyres and a lazy autobox. Not quite sure why I liked it so much. Maybe it was just the hoot of drifting the old girl around corners at 30 mph, manually shifting the slushbox in a vain search for power. Slow, but it was beautifully built and is probably even now working as a taxi somewhere in Africa. Comfortable MB-Tex seats as well. I'm currently thinking about buying a 250 (2.8 engine) from the same era, which tells you something. About a fool and his money, probably.

Humber Sceptre (70's-type)

Humber Sceptre 70s

If I spent enough time on it I could probably tell you the proper model name, rather than '70's-type'. Let's be honest, I can't be bothered. Something the car lacked inspires no enthusiasm. I think I thought it was a 'practical classic', one that could be used everyday without costing too much. May well be the first time, certainly not the last time, that I made that mistake. It was boring. Well, the gearshift was ok and it trundled along in its own way. But it was only ever a Hillman Hunter in a posh frock. Some may wonder why you can still buy an immaculate one for peanuts. If you'd ever owned one you'd know.

Having said that, the old bus still had a part to play in one of my most memorable motoring moments. One of those about loading all your belongings into your car and doing a runner from a nutty girlfriend and the place you were sharing. Every time I hear the Eagles 'Already Gone' I'm back in that Humber, the back bumper bouncing off the M1, heading out of Crouch End and towards a kind of sanity. Or, in my case, Chesham.

Yugo Zastava

No, I don't know how I ended up with this thing either - I think my brother, who I got it from, was getting his revenge for that Simca. The most horrible, hateful, undriveable piece of crap I've ever owned. No redeeming features whatsoever. It was a limited edition 'Caribbean' model (not that that makes any difference, as I'm sure all models were equally crap). The original seats had disintegrated and been covered in synthetic brown fur covers. Car was based on a Lada, I think, but with a hatchback. It crabbed slightly and so wore out front tyres at a great rate, was uncomfortable, had the world's worst gearchange and hadn't the power to tow a small brick away from the Berlin Wall. I still hate that car and want my revenge for every second I drove it. Any photos of it will have been burnt a long time ago.

Vauxhall Royale

Vauxhall Royale

Aka 'Big Vern'. A massively impressive car. I swapped the Yugo for the welding work needed to get the Vauxhall through an MOT (guess who won on that deal). At this time my job involved traveling the country, based from London, installing and training on computer software. For which, for a car with a 2.8 litre engine, the company paid 84p per mile. And they wondered why I volunteered for the Northern installations? I was making more from expenses than I was paid in salary. Plus staying in hotels with no real limit on what you spent. Those were the days.

Anyway, Big Vern was silver with burgundy velour trim (my Dad always referred to it as 'The Tart's Parlour') and electric everything. Ok, some of the electrics didn't work - like the driver's side window - but so what? It was fast, I didn't care about economy, and when hurtling up the motorway it was easily mistaken for Plod's Senator. Fine with me, as I watched the other traffic scuttling into the middle lane. Tens of thousands of miles of fun. I still look at the Senators and Monzas - basically the same car - when they come up for sale.

One winter morning I was supposed to go into the office in the City, from Windsor where I was living at the time. On the radio they announced the trains were not running, and I looked-out on Big Vern with ½ foot of snow on it. Bear in mind it was already an old, tired car. I thought ok, if it starts I'll go to work. It did, of course, and we slipped and slid into London on the A4 on the ice and snow. In comfort, warmth (probably more than if I'd stayed in my bedsit) and generally having a great time. What a car.

Reliant Rebel (estate)

Reliant Rebel estate

I have no memory of how this car came into my possession, and no idea quite why or how it stayed around so long. It wasn't even that good a car, with a terrible magic wand gearshift and no power whatsoever. It was also chronically unreliable. But it ran, most of the time, and it was cheap. More importantly (see Alfas below) it didn't rust. I drove it up from Windsor to Newcastle once, non-stop, in 6 hours. I couldn't stop because it suffered from fuel vaporization once warm. Which made refueling interesting - don't ever do that at home, kids, it's very dangerous. The photo above was taken when we went to a classic car show in Bristol and somehow ended up in the exhibitors paddock rather than the car park. Still, we got in free and the car had a quick tidy.

I do owe it an enormous debt of gratitude, though, because it broke down when my then-girlfriend was driving it back to her home in Bristol. I went to rescue her, we went to the pub (I'm mechanically inept) and I decided to move west. Thanks, little plastic one.

Two Reliant Rebel estates

I had the great idea, a few years later, of buying a second one for spares. Except the second one was completely rusted solid. Still, some good came of it when I swapped the two of them for some work on the SE4 Coupe (see elsewhere). I think Danny used the chassis from both to help build his specials. Recycling? Forget your 'green' eurobox, old car folk were there long before you.

Alfasud 1.5 Ti

Alfasud 1.5 Ti

I think it may have been badged '1.5 TiX' (whatever that means), but I can't quite remember. The picture tells the story - it was a heap. I bought it with 3 months MOT knowing it would never pass another. What a fantastic car. Forget the flapping plastic bits on the rusted-beyond-belief bodywork, forget the interior trim that falls off if you look at it. This thing is a drivers car, pure and simple. Never thought I'd think that about a front-wheel drive car. You could throw it into corners and the back comes round and it's really quite fast. It really was a brilliant little car - you couldn't not smile when driving it. And it sounded fantastic, with two twin-choke carbs on a flat-four engine. That is one of the great engine sounds, one that just makes you tingle, like a good straight-six or a V8.

One day Beaulieu will have a section where you can enjoy the 'Alfasud Experience'. Alongside the 'Golf GTI Experience', where you try to work out how much better your Mk II would be without lifeless power steering, and then compare your current eurobox and golf handicap. Or the 'XR3i Experience', where you have to buy (or steal) one, customize it to the best of your budget, crash it into a stationary object - another XR3i would be good - and then end up stuck with it for the rest of your life. The campaign for the 'Alfasud Experience' starts here. Anyone who's driven one will know why - if you haven't, there are still a few cheap ones kicking around so there's no excuse.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2.0

Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2.0

Well, it made sense at the time. If a front-wheel drive Alfa is so good, how fantastic is a rear-wheel drive one going to be? Er, not so good, to be honest. I thought I was buying a decent one but the first time it rained the beige paint started running off the car, leaving only red primer and rust. Never as much fun as the Sud - clunky to drive and the gearchange (gearbox at the back, supposedly for better weight distribution) was difficult to use. And you couldn't get second gear when the 'box was cold, just like a Ferrari. How cool is that? Not very, when you need second gear to get the car out of the city and onto the M32 in the early hours of the morning.

These two Alfas got me through a time when I was commuting from Bristol to London every day. The Sud ran out of MOT a few weeks in and the Giulietta did ok until it dumped its oil and then seized on the Hammersmith Flyover about 7 a.m. one morning. Guess who was Mr Popular with the other commuters? Luckily I managed to move offices to Bristol, so the rest of the country's old and tired Alfa population could breathe easy for a while.

Reliant Scimitar SE5

Relaint Scimitar SE5

Looks a bit like a WhizzWheels car, doesn't it? Went well, and not down an orange track either. I was back to traveling all round the country on (unfortunately reduced) expenses by this point and it was just the tool for the job. I'm not sure my sometimes passengers were too impressed - noisy, draughty, little heating, always smelled of oil - but I was quite happy. My strongest memory is doing some fairly long journeys, like from Bristol to Newcastle - the one full of Geordies - and back in a day, with a few hours' work to do between drives. I think the radio was AM-only, so I was a happy bunny when Radio 5 started and Danny Baker was doing the morning shift. Good music, a very funny DJ and he could say what he wanted because there can't have been that many of us listening anyway.

The car was fast, comfortable and handled beautifully. Electrics and creature comforts not a strong point. Forget that, what I'm trying not to type is that I made a complete prat out of myself driving this car. Coming back from South Wales one Sunday and got stuck on the approach to a two-lane bridge on the A48/M4. Car overheating and driver (me) irate so he decides he'll drive down the side of the road, into some kind of drainage ditch, then back up and jump the queue. Idiot. Ended in failure and embarrassment, as it was bound to.

Another car where I don't know how it arrived or where it went to. May have been my brother's I think. I know I wasted a fair bit of money at a Scimitar 'specialist' outside Bristol (you'll know the one if you're interested in Scimitars). I asked for a quote for a complete re-wire, accepted it even though it wasn't cheap, and then turned-up unannounced one day to find their YTS-kiddie was cutting off the ends off the existing wiring loom and putting new ends on. Not quite what I had in mind. Hang your head in shame, you 'specialist' you. As I do, for my 'bridge rage' incident.

Alfasud 1.3 SC

I wish I had a photo of this one, I really do. Actually, I wish I had that car again. Probably the best 'Sud I've ever owned. It was badged '1.3 SC' - single carburetor - but there seemed to be two carbs under the bonnet, and a healthy (1.5?) engine. I'm not mechanically-minded, though, so for insurance purposes - don't do this at home kids - it was a 1.3 SC. Car was red with black Revolution wheels, a specialist exhaust and Recarro-style seats. I must have had the car a while because I replaced that exhaust at least twice. Over a year, then?

It flew. Noisy, snorting, backfiring, exhaust-eating little monster that it was. At the time I was doing regular runs from Bristol down to Dorset so soon learnt the 'B' roads, and then we were off. Ok, the interior fell apart and the electrics were rubbish. So what. I can still remember arriving at my destination laughing, not only at the car and the drive but at the fact that someone was paying me a mileage allowance for my business travel in the thing. I'd love to know what customers thought when I turned-up to train them on their financial software still grinning from ear to ear. Better than arriving grinning and stinking of oil (see SE5, above) I guess.

No need to say what became of it. But I'm writing this, as I wrote the other bit about the earlier 'Sud the other night, wondering just why I'm thinking of buying a big old Merc. I must be mad. I wonder what an Alfa 33 Sportwagon (supposedly similar chassis, 1.7 boxer engine) goes like ...

Reliant Kitten

Reliant Kitten

Never really liked this car. Unlike the Rebel, which felt as well-built as a Mini or Imp (check out that level of competition, if you will), the Kitten was a bit like a bad kit car. Little toy-town steering wheel, small wheels and narrow body made it feel more scary and underpowered than it probably was. Mine didn't deserve its eventual fate, though, which was to be stolen and burnt out. Why? Because it had cute Mini-size alloy wheels, removed and replaced with steels by the thieves prior to rolling it down the road and torching it. The last laugh? The offset on rear-wheel drive Kitten wheels isn't right for the front-wheel drive Mini, meaning the wheel nuts would have come undone when used. Hope the little rodent was cornering at speed at the time.

Land Rover S3 LWB

Land Rover

Another bad move, this one. Not quite sure why I bought it, but it never delivered anything but hassle. And a huge cheese-plant, once. Unreliable, and would only start in a massive cloud of blue smoke, but I remember it mainly for two things:

  1. I had it locked-up and sideways once, when I thought the car in front would turn off (well, it had been indicating). Ok, poor driving on my part and my fault. But you should've heard the noise, on the Gloucester Road in central Bristol on a Saturday morning, as a '78 Landie slid sideways on its big old tyres. That made them jump, those pedestrians. Scared the crap out of me, and I was on the inside. God alone knows how many specialist breads and mueslis were lost that day. Mostly those still in shopping bags.

  2. Then it was stolen. I mean, look at it. What are you going to do with it? Apparently there was some gang of thieves coming into Bristol, nicking Landies, driving them out to a remote farm, and then burying them underground until the heat died down. Ok, I can believe it with Range Rovers and Discoveries, but that one? Anyway, they got a few streets away before it broke down. Bet that foiled Mr Big's plans. Plod phoned me the next day and told me I had to get it moved because it was blocking a posh person's drive in Clifton. Terribly sorry, Your Lordship, next time I let the world domination car-thieving village idiots nick my Landie I'll make sure it doesn't die outside your manor.

Alfasud 1.5 Sprint

Another one I wish I had a photo of. It was a black, chrome-bumpered late-70's Sprint and it looked the part - no crap bodykit and no awful colours on the inside, unlike most of the later ones. Trouble was, the Sprint was never as good on the road as the standard 'Sud, handling-wise. In the saloon you felt like you were on top of chassis but in the Sprint it was all a bit too remote.

I can remember - many years before - my Dad taking me out in my stepmother's Sprint and showing me how it ran wide on corners. I think he may have been trying to scare me. Nice try, Dad. But he knew about 'Suds, as well, because he'd had a 1.5 saloon a few years before and knew how to drive it (and in that thing he could actually really scare me, though I'd never let him know of course). So years later I had to go and try it for myself. Damn if he wasn't right, and the 'Sud Sprint is a duffer compared to the saloons. Compared to most of the cars north or south of here, though, it's still a great motor.

Humber Sceptre (60's-type)

Humber Sceptre 60s

This car makes me depressed just thinking about it. A bit of a dog and I bought it because it was shiny and cheap. It never ran properly. Then I wasted a lot of money with a 'specialist' old car garage in north Bristol (just to the east of the final M32 junction and south of the ring road - you know who you are, you rodents). They showed me other cars they were lovingly restoring, by letting-in new metal, then dumped a ton of filler in mine and charged me a fortune for it. I was stupid then because I think I must've still thought that the more you paid the better the work you got. A learning curve then.

It was actually quite a lively car to drive, and a good one would probably have been a nice experience. Mine wasn't a good one.

Rover P5

Rover P5

A missed opportunity? This car was my own 30th birthday present to myself, and it was a good car. Hang on a second. Thirtieth birthday, and I'm buying an old man's car? And what was that Humber all about, anyway?

Not overly fast but tons of momentum once moving, and huge fun when drifting sideways. It's probably too obvious to mention, but it was beautifully built and oh so comfortable. If you've never been in one then please have a go as soon as you can. A Roller, or a Jag, has nothing on a 60's Rover for a mixture of class and horsepower. It wasn't the right car for me at the time, but I wish I'd stashed it away in a garage and could revive it in the future.

Unfortunately for me I took it to the same garage as the Humber above (a fool and his money etc.) to get the brakes sorted. Next time I drove it home from the garage I almost wiped-out the brickwork outside my house - and myself - when the brakes failed completely. I couldn't trust it after that, and it had to go. I did learn my lesson about that garage in Frenchay though.

Lotus Eclat

Lotus Eclat front

Beautiful, isn't it? As I said elsewhere about an 80's TVR (SST - Choosing), I think wedges are the mutt's nuts. Like most people who've owned a Lotus of this age, it wasn't all roses with this car. But some real memorable drives as well. Let's deal with the down side first then inject some cheer by talking about the plus points.

When the photo above was taken it had broken down. I'd only gone out for a little spin after cleaning it, and stopped to buy a paper. That was just about par for the course - I swear it did more miles on the back of a transporter than under its own steam. Anywhere and everywhere, for no discernible reason, it would refuse to start. With most cars you can recognise a pattern, but not this one. You just never knew. I can clearly remembering it starting in the depths of winter (it always lived outside) with a few inches of snow on it. Another day you could run in a few hundred miles in perfect weather, stop for an hour or two, and it wouldn't start again. Maddening. I spent a fortune on the engine and mechanical bits but it made no difference to the starting.
(No, I don't want to hear your theory about why it was unreliable. I've heard every theory known to man. I've seen grown mechanics weep, and roadside assistance services crumble. Whatever you're thinking, it wasn't that. Just leave it, please.)

Then some idiot tried to steal it - it wasn't running anyway at the time - and I had a long battle with the insurance company and various garages over getting it repaired. After that it was even worse, and I'm ashamed to say I let it decay in the front garden. Salvation is at hand, though, because it's back with my brother and his wife (from whence it came) who intend to restore it. They did their courting in it and still have fond memories. Bless. Maybe in those days they didn't care if it wouldn't start.

Lotus Eclat rear

Ambassador, you spoil us with your photos. I know, but it's just so damn good looking. From the above you can see the removed 'Riviera' roof panel, as fitted to a few later Eclats and Elites. It also had the 2.2 litre engine and a galvanised chassis. But forget all that, it's the way it went (when it went, natch) that matters. When I first had it I managed around 6000 miles in, I think, about 6 months. Some of that was business but a lot of it was just for the hell of it.

First time I drove it properly was coming back up the A and B roads from Cornwall to Bristol. It was fast and wonderful to drive, but seemed very tail-happy. Once I'd changed the bald tyres for new ones, mind-blowing handling. I'm not quite sure I ever found the limit of the cornering. I know I scared myself, and my passengers, looking for it. Wonderfully quick across country - see an opportunity to overtake and just go for it. By the time you'd thought about it you were past. Excellent gearchange and well-weighted steering - when it was running well it really was difficult to fault. Crap electrics (only one, partially-raised, headlight, at night, in the snow, on the M62, anyone?) and it leaked water in everywhere but you don't really care about that, and neither did I. So mixed emotions, but looking back I'm glad I owned it.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6 RS

Yet again, an Alfa with no photo. It was a burgundy with silver plastic bits on the outside and a sort of beige inside, if you're interested. But it was an odd Alfa - it didn't rust, it was reliable and everything worked. Worked well, in fact. I don't know what the 'RS' bit means but it was quicker than my old 2.0 litre Giulietta and went round corners better as well (same awkward gearchange, though). Never let me down, that I can remember anyway, and I traveled all round the country in the thing. For all that, I didn't like it much. What's that all about then? Character flaw of some sort, no doubt.

Volkswagen T4

Volkswagon T4

(That's not some sort of bizarre racing stripe down the back, or a very poor cut 'n shut job - it's the shadow from a lamp post. Never quite sussed this photography thing.)

May seem an odd choice, so let me explain:
Steering: Remote
Gearchange: Not the best
Performance: Glacial
Handling: Eh? Doesn't go fast enough to need any
Ability to make repeated journeys from Bristol to Lancashire and back, loaded to the top with all manner of household clutter, whilst sipping diesel like it hates the stuff: First class

Yes, moving house up North, but doing it in stages. As advised on the TV shows about selling property (all channels, 7:30 to 9pm every night, check local listings for programme names) I decided to move a large amount of the rubbish I own into a storage unit to make my house look bigger. Hell, I was desperate - this wasn't the first time the house had been on the market. And, I won't admit it to anyone, the advice about the decluttering and a bit of decorating did seem to make a difference. Ouch. How can people so annoying be right? Anyway, back to Van Gogh (old joke, I still like it). I could have hired a van for the trips up and back but that can get expensive - especially if you end up doing more journeys than you think you'll need to do, as I knew I would. So I'll buy a van then.

Has to be VW van, as I had a couple as my 'company cars' years ago and they were very impressive. Also has to be diesel, and preferably not too ancient. Just to complicate things I've got a vague idea about using it as a camper once the move is done with. So I was a bit lucky, I think, with finding that one. It was owned by a hippie surfer kiddie, had windows in the back and rear seats that folded into a bed or could be removed completely. Not the prettiest thing in the world - are there really that many shades of white? - but it did the job. A VW service and a few new tyres and we went up and down and up and down and up and down the M5 and M6 so many times I lost count (I was also, of course, coming up North to view houses). Van did brilliantly, completing all those journeys in comfort and at 35 mpg. And the surfer kiddie had put in a great hi-fi, which helps a lot.

What's next?

At time of writing the SST and the Coupe are both up and running a treat. I've still got the van and used it recently to help my brother and family move house, but I think it'll have to go as I'm not really using it enough and insurance and road tax make it an expensive luxury. Then what? Probably nothing, but an early-70's 2.8 Merc saloon appeals. And having written the Sud bits above I might just have to try one last boxer-engined Alfa before they all rust away. A 1.7 16-valve 33 Sportwagon sounds nice. Hell, it's almost practical. Chortle. We'll see.

Update: October 2004 and a new addition to the fleet. See Peugeot 205 GTI.

Update: May 2005 the VW T4 was sold to finance more shenanigans in the US.