Regular readers will recall how I recently mistreated my old BMW and wasn’t entirely repentant. As a rally car, it’s often at risk of inspecting the scenery but I don’t make a habit of going off. Still, if you don’t bin it once in a while you’re not trying hard enough and our 2018 historic rallying season ended in a ditch in Boltby Forest. After being distracted by life, I belatedly got around to arranging to have it mended and in early January a man with a beavertail scooped it up and took it away. Time passed and the phone rang. It was ready. Time to be reunited.
Events conspired to mean that shuttling up in our other car wouldn’t be an option, so I booked a train ticket and made my way to the station early the following morning. It’s the type of station with limited amenities, but on the day in question the limitation also extended to trains so I boarded the rail replacement bus. I exchanged the bus for an actual train at the Main Line station, pausing only to discover that it was impossible to buy a copy of Practical Classics magazine and I had to settle for an inferior substitute. I would write a stern letter to WH Smiths telling them to sort themselves – and not least their magazine shelves – out, but I should really ask what sort of person spends their time reading about old rammel when there are interesting things to see out of the window. I enjoy cross country rail journeys. Trains are a fine place from which to assess the gradual architectural decline of England, but also to take heart in the swathes of green and fading grandeur that remains. I often muse why it’s so difficult to find storage for old cars when there are so many old sheds, factories and warehouses standing empty out there. Alternatively, you could take the approach of just dumping old cars in a field, a pastime that’s seemingly still popular in the farming community and one that can lead to excited yelps when something interesting is spotted flashing past the window.
Soon the rhythm of the carriage lulls me into a higher state of consciousness and I inhale the ghosts of the railway poets, Auden, Betjeman and Edward Thomas. I channel prose so meaningful it catches me unawares. It’s at times like this I wonder if the world will ever appreciate how gifted I am, within my own lifetime I mean. What if people only read my stuff about cars and thus have no way of knowing the breadth of my talent?
Scenes from a train window
Me on the train and over the border, bringing the cheque not a postal order,
Chesterfield, Dore, Leeds and Gargrave. Yes, I remember Adlestrop.
E-mails of thanks, demands from the banks, tweets of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations, look up from your smartphones, you’re missing your stations!
Clackety clack, up the track, I look in the yards, the backs of houses.
Somewhere a cat stares. Watching.
Perhaps it is dead inside.
Waking with a start I change trains at Leeds and board a notorious Northern Rail Pacer for the final leg. Cobbled together as a temporary fix in the 1980s, Pacers are Diesel Multiple Units built on modified Leyland National bus chassis. The Michelotti styled National was a staple of British bus fleets from 1972 well into the 1990s, but whilst it made an excellent and characterful bus, it spawned a grim and unloved train. Pacers were only supposed to plug a short term gap in the availability of rolling stock but are still stumbling around nearly twenty years after they were supposed to be decommissioned. British Rail somehow managed to sell a batch to Iran but they had the sense to park them up long ago. Yorkshire commuters have been less fortunate than those in Tehran, but time has finally caught up with the Pacer and disability regulations mean they’ll be permanently sidelined from December 2019. Not everything retro is good, sometimes it’s just rubbish.
The Pacer does it’s best to ruin my enjoyment of the picturesque Bentham Line, but the scenery wins through in the February sunshine. I alight to be greeted by Kevin and we head off on the short journey to his workshop, the back of his little Suzuki filled with the looming presence of his extremely large dog, a creature that curiously becomes considerably smaller when outside the car. I’m finally reunited with my car, and pleased to find it looking considerably better than last time I saw it. I’ll normally have a go at pulling out light body damage but hitting the bank had caused problems beyond my abilities. Old BMWs are generally well served for new parts but complete front panels are currently unavailable and new old stock items are extremely expensive. I was fortunate as although the damage was quite extensive, it was limited to the front left corner and the rest of the inner structure was straight. The car was rebuilt about five years ago but I’d left the original front panel in place for two reasons. Primarily, it was just about presentable enough to get away with, but mainly I retained it because I was confident it would get bent at some point. With replacement forced upon me, I was fortunate that BMW specialist Jaymic had recently commissioned a small batch of lower front repair panels. After straightening of the headlamp cowl support and some fabrication being required to create something to weld to, the new nose went on thereby chasing the last of the old rot from the car. With the wrecked navigator’s wing being replaced I splashed out on a new driver’s side too and raided my spares pile for most of the other items, only having difficulties with the headlamp. The problem with new right-hand drive 2002 headlamps is they are perilously pricey. With the surviving headlamp clouded, I really need to attend to both, and not wanting to spend £600 in doing so I took the option of spending £45 on a new pair of flat generic Hellas for a Mk1 Golf which Kevin grafted into the standard headlamp bowls. 02 purists may baulk but I prefer the slightly recessed look and the output is startling better. Result! Time to get on the road.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better spring day. With bright sunshine, cool temperatures and minimal salt on the roads I reacquainted myself with the car on the quick and flowing North Yorkshire roads. The 02 transformed BMW’s fortunes and began to build the company’s reputation for producing very capable sporting saloons. Fifty years on those dynamics still deliver and it’s a faithful car that encourages and rewards press-ondriving. In clubman rally car trim with only a single Weber 32-36 and a short final drive you can still have a lot of fun without being silly. With no sound deadening and the quarterlights open to let the breeze in, there is an impression of speed that extends far beyond the truth. A dicky speedometer joins in and flatters to deceive. Pausing momentarily in Settle, an elderly gent emerges from the beautiful Grade II listed Victoria Hall theatre, England’s oldest surviving music hall. We pass the time of day and he’s delighted to see the car, asking questions and stroking the bonnet. “I bet it goes well”, he says as I think about the highly fictitious 120mph the needle registered back up the road. You don’t get encounters like this when driving a modern car and he gives me a cheery wave as he wanders off, just him and the eligible widows of Settle. It’s not until I’m through Harrogate and the A1M beckons that 2019 catches up. Tucking in behind the trucks I pull into Wetherby Services seeking comfort and sustenance in the form of a toilet and a pasty (in that order; I’m not an animal). I’d forgotten about the unwritten embargo on Super Unleaded in Yorkshire, so running low I tease in the minimum amount of high octane I can get away with, wincing and pondering how I could have drilled it out of the ground and refined it myself for that money. As darkness falls I continue southbound, occasionally venturing into the fast lane for a high revs blast past the identikit traffic, but mainly just cruising along with the flow, chasing down the white lines to the M18 and M1. Night drives used to be bathed in warm orange sodium streetlights but those days are rapidly disappearing. LEDs are changing the ambient colour of our motorways, but they’re still less of a menace than the unnecessarily bright lights fitted to modern cars. With at least 50% of traffic now seeming to comprise of tall SUVs, a small old car becomes invisible by comparison. With average speed cameras now controlling traffic flow on the M1, everyone plods along in a dazed stupor. There are fewer hazards on a forestry track any day.
I arrive home and switch off the ignition. The 02 is out of place in the modern world. It costs me too much money and it’ll never be worth enough to justify itself financially. It’s choosy about fuel and only drinks the expensive kind. After a few hours of driving, what little hearing I have left is further blunted. It’s not that fast and it needs a fifth gear. The brakes are heavy and a three point turn takes more energy than I usually expend in a whole day at my desk. It’s been straightened but you can still tell it’s seen some action. There’s always something to attend to because that’s just the nature of old cars. But in spite of all this, and equally because of it, I’m still happy to have it back.