Much as I have always really enjoyed just driving a car – any car really, to any destination, and for any reason, or maybe even for no reason at all – I must confess that I no longer particularly enjoy my commute to work. I perhaps don’t dislike it either, but I’m at best indifferent towards my commute. But it wasn’t always this way. So what’s changed?
One could argue that the congestion which our roads nowadays suffer under, is the main cause for my change of heart about my daily commute. There’s probably some truth in that too, but I’m thoroughly unwilling to believe this is the sole reason. A friend recently suggested that maybe the novelty of driving had finally worn off for me. However, this is clearly pure gibberish, as every time I crawl behind the steering wheel of a classic car, I’m immediately overcome by that all-encompassing utterly childish through-to-the-bone joy, which inevitably has me longing for more, more, more… So on that note, I personally think it has a lot more to do with the cars we drive on our commute – modern cars.
I simply feel that modern cars – even the really nice ones, which on paper at least ought to excite us as car enthusiasts – are just plain soulless. Yes, they are very comfortable, filled to the brim with luxuries no one knew we needed, they’re fast and surefooted, amazingly reliable too, and basically impressively competent in just about every perceivable way. But they’re also almost overly accomplished to the point where they cocoon you from the real driving experience, and thereby become BORING!
At this point, if you dear reader, are to stand any fair fighting chance of relating to my random ramblings, it is only fair that I share with you what I currently drive on my daily commute. Maybe then, you can tell me whether I’ve simply lost my mind, or you might even be able to help me towards a solution, so I can again rediscover my joy for every drive. Currently parked on my driveway is a remarkably well-kept low mileage ’02 BMW 330Ci Sport with a manual box and all the toys. It is in all honesty a lovely piece of kit. It fairly recently took over the duties from a ’99 Volvo C70 T5 with the rare (and unique to the UK market – I think?) GT-package and equally sporting a 5-speed manual box. Again, a lovely piece of kit, and frankly a car which I had wanted to own for a long time, as I feel it’s one of the last truly timeless and classic coupé designs out there, not to mention that fabulous 240hp 5-cylinder engine. I actually haven’t even gotten around to selling the Volvo yet, so if you’re in the market for one, please do drop me a line… The BMW 330Ci was enrolled purely because I figured perhaps RWD was the answer to my prayers. Last but not least, my wife’s ’02 Saab 9-5 Estate with a force-fed petrol engine and a manual gearbox also shares the driveway, and while it’s of course just a big family estate, I honestly feel it’s a whole lot more interesting than the many current and rather ridiculous crossover-things which pollute our roads today. The Saab carries the kids, puts up with trips to the skip and everything else we can throw at it, and still manages to feel just about special enough for me to sometimes sneak the Saab keys out of my wife’s handbag instead of just jumping into my BMW.
You’ll note that our daily cars are not exactly brand-spanking new. In fact, several of my colleagues and friends who aren’t classic-car-crazed, seem to find it somewhat insane that we own nothing that isn’t at least 15 years of age. To them, our dailys are ancient! But to me, the 330Ci, the C70 and the 9-5 still all represent modern cars. As such they just lack the driving involvement – they lack character. I dare not even contemplate how depressed I would feel in a brand new plastic econobox. Previously in life, I have used several BMW 2002’s as dailies, also a small Sunbeam Imp Sport, a nippy little mid-eighties Honda, there’s been a couple of BMW E21 3-series, I have fond memories of my excellent Peugeot 505 GTi, and a small handful of fabulous BMW E30 3-series have also undertaken my daily driving duties. With all of these I recall even the daily commute feeling like a special occasion. It’s that magical sensation which I so need back into my life. Heh, I even have memories of an early-eighties Toyota Starlet 1.0DL (yes, the RWD one.) in many ways putting a bigger smile on my face than my BMW E46 does! Silly, isn’t it?
A small selection of the BMW’s I’ve previously owned as daily drivers.
On the face of it, the solution is of course rather obvious: Keep the Saab for the family, sell both the C70 and the 330Ci, and buy something older for myself to resurrect the fun in driving. But is that a realistic proposition? And if so, which older car should I buy? Back when 02’s, E30’s, Imp, Starlet, Civic and 505 were offering me a deliciously analogue driving experience on every commute, they were also newer cars than they are today. And therein lies a large portion of the challenge. Will the type of car that could offer me driving satisfaction, also be able to offer me the kind of reliability that I require from my daily?
Old paper pictures of a few of my previous – analogue – daily drivers.
I envy ViaRETRO’s Claus Ebberfeld for cruising around in his mustard yellow Reliant Scimitar as a daily. Such style! So I’ve been to look at a few Scimitars for sale, and I must say I really like them. But reliability is perhaps not their strongest asset. My daytime job which pays the bills requires punctuality at all times of the day and night throughout the year. Rocking up 10 minutes late because the Scimitar wouldn’t start, or maybe it actually started this time, but then it overheated (again), just isn’t going to cut it! Similar worries probably apply to the fairly cheap manual Jaguar XJ-S 3.6 which had me tempted way beyond my ability to cope. A reasonable expectation of reliability must be part of the equation. So how about a Toyota then? Everyone knows that you can’t kill a Toyota, right? Well I’d love to own a first generation MR-2, but even with the Saab Estate on the driveway, I just can’t justify a 2-seater daily when we have two children. So while they’re not strictly two-seaters. that’s a first generation RX-7 and a 924S out of the picture too. How about simply returning to an E30 then? Perhaps a bit unadventurous as I’ve owned several already, but it’s a tried and tested formula for me, and I have genuinely always rated the 6-cylinder E30’s as one of the automotive worlds absolute best all-rounders. Yes, those are big words for a small three-box mass-produced BMW of the eighties, but I stand by it. While it’s clearly not the best in the world at any one thing, they simply do everything so convincing – it’s the complete package, including the reliability and practicality one wants in a daily car. But you try finding an unmolested, rustfree 325i with a manual gearbox and sensible mileage. Sure they’re out there, but prices start at £ 10k + and that’s sadly north of what I can currently invest in a daily. How about a Capri 2.8i then? Oh, they’re now just as expensive as a 325i. And an Alfa Romeo GTV6 is even dearer still. While an Elite 501 is perhaps within my price bracket, it however makes the Scimitar look like the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of bulletproof reliability. Argh… every viable solution ends up being a dead end!
So what say you dear reader? Have I finally lost my marbles, and just made up this whole issue in my head? Are modern cars (a term which to me includes the roughly 15 year old cars on our drive) great for the daily commute? Should I just embrace it? Or do you too suffer on your daily drive just like I do? If so, what is the solution? Bearing in mind that while being older than my current daily, the solution needs to demonstrate not only grin-inducing driving characteristics, but also a high level of reliability, a further ability to deal with year-round use and outdoors parking without dissolving into a pile of rust after the first winter, a reasonably sized rear seat, and naturally a manual gearbox. Oh, and just to make the selection process truly impossible, I’m working on a budget of £ 5k – 6k.
Yes, you can now tell me that I need to wake up from that fantasy dreamworld where such a car might exist…