A few months ago I rammed my BMW 2002 headlong into a Forestry Commission ditch. I didn’t do it deliberately but it happened nonetheless. Unlike Anders’ attempt at producing similar damage last summer, this was all my own work. Many classic car enthusiasts would be horrified at the thought of their pride and joy meeting with such misfortune and I’ll admit I wasn’t over the moon with the result myself, but it’s important to keep it in proportion.
I bought my 02 to go historic rallying and it’s successfully performed this role for the past three years with barely a mark being inflicted. It gets used hard but experience, some skill and a little luck have usually aligned to mean we can spend a day throwing it around and still get to drive home. The car was an appalling shed when I bought it. The rot was terminal and it stood no chance whatsoever of seeing another MOT. Nearly 40 British winters had done their worst and periods of living on the coast had ensured a frequent salt bath, even throughout the summers. Every mechanical component was shot and for this old car it was looking very much like the end was nigh. Turning it into a rally car actually made a lot of practical sense. If you intend to go rallying with any conviction you need to be able to depend on the car and it needs to be strong enough to protect you, if and when it all goes wrong. Out came the dusty clouds of flaky old grot and in went the seemingly endless sections of new metal. I know exactly what had to be repaired (most of it) and I know exactly what could be saved (not much). Some may raise an eyebrow at bouncing a carefully restored classic down a rough track but unless it’s spot on you won’t get far. More to the point, if it hadn’t been rebuilt for such a purpose nobody in their right mind would have taken it on just to use it as a road car. There would have been much more pleasurable avenues for them to follow, such as repeatedly trapping their hand in a door or feeding £50 notes into the fire whilst reclining on a carpet of broken glass.
Going off occasionally is an occupational hazard when rallying. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again because I firmly believe that if it doesn’t happen once in a while you’re simply not trying hard enough. This time my luck ran out down a Forestry Commission track. We rounded a 45 degree left and I lined it up for a manoeuvre around a cone chicane. The best line involved placing a wheel off the track which normally isn’t a problem, but this time the relatively grippy gravel road gave way to an unexpectedly boggy and slippery verge. It was a case of the right foot being in the wrong place at the wrong time and we glided off forwards, clearing the ditch and planting the nose into the opposite bank. Instinctively I immediately selected reverse gear but we were going nowhere. Beached and stuck, we had to wait for the ignominy of recovery by which point we were too late to continue. In any case, due to the creased metal we could only really turn left without fouling the bodywork.
Other things have since taken priority so I haven’t got around to arranging repair until now, but I’ve had a satisfying delivery of new panels and work has commenced. I’m not a welder so it’s gone away to a man who can as the front panel is beyond my skills. Parts availability for 02s is good but complete front panels are currently out of production. NOS and straight used ones cost a fortune but I’m hoping we’ll get away with a repair section on the lower and straightening the top rail. It sounds easy as I sit here in the warm without having to actually deal with it myself. As it happens, the nose was one of the few parts I didn’t have replaced when the car was first prepared. It may or may not be original but it showed signs of previous accident damage and somebody way back in the mists of time saw fit to repair it with a lump hammer and an industrial vat of wob, whilst blindfolded. I chose to leave it how it was, suspecting this day would come. So as a result of nerfing the bank I’m finally forced into fixing the only remaining rusty section on the car. At least I didn’t have to do it twice and I can congratulate myself both on my foresight and the fact the car is being improved due to my actions.
This really brings me to why I can’t be too upset at bending the car. Firstly, even though it’s costing me from my own pocket (insurance doesn’t work that way for rally cars) at least I feel I am getting something for my money. Secondly, it was built to do a job and it does that job well. We’ve had adventures that wouldn’t have been possible in a modern car and this mishap is just part of the story. Competition cars get rebuilt all the time and this is merely a scratch by the standards of some things that go on. Thirdly, although I’ll occasionally roll up to a classic car gathering in it, it’s resolutely not a show car. Those who may think it’s a shame that the lovely old car has been ruined with racing seats and a roll cage don’t have a reason to know what an utter snotbag it used to be, and how it really shouldn’t be around at all.
So there we go. Cars are meant to be used. One benefit arising from the unhealthy fixation on values is that fewer cars get written off due to repairable damage, and more damage is financially worth repairing. So unless you possess a one-owner rarity with documented low mileage and a service history personally stamped by the Queen, you shouldn’t worry about minor dings too much. It might actually mean that your car ends up better than it already was. Now, note to self – don’t do it again…