Monday, 24 October 2011
Hooptedoodle #35 - The Reluctant Boy Racer
Normally, I drive a big pickup. I have a Mitsubishi L200 diesel, with double cab and a hard-top on the back. It is quite economical for its size, has a useful carrying capacity for work, for general haulage and my musical activities and - most importantly - the ground clearance and the 4WD mean that we can reliably negotiate the farm tracks and country roads in bad weather. In the snows of last Winter, there were a number of days when my son would not have got to school without it. I don't do a big mileage, so I am not prostrated with guilt about the environment.
These trucks are normally very reliable, so it has been a big disappointment that it has been causing me problems this year. A couple of head-gasket changes have failed to cure bubbling in the cooling system - the first one was expensive and didn't work. The second was done under guarantee, but that hasn't worked either, so now I am looking at fitting a new cylinder head, since the old one appears to have become porous. So much for the infallibility of Japanese engineering.
No point in griping about it - I need the vehicle back on the road, and it is no use as it is, so I'd better find the money and shut up. I've been pretty lucky with cars over the years, so I guess these things balance out. As is usual in a rural area, the garage has kindly lent me a car while my own is off the road. These loan cars tend to be something which is too scruffy to sell quickly - the last one was a very potent Honda which someone had evidently been breeding pigs in. This time I have a 12-year-old Ford Escort 16v. Interesting. It has that low, boy-racer line of its day, very silly plastic wheels and a completely cosmetic wing on the back which serves chiefly to obstruct the rear view. Now, I missed out on the boy racer phase - I didn't learn to drive until I was in my thirties - so this should be an interesting experience, you would think.
I can't really complain - it gets me about, but it reminds me of another world of motoring which I don't normally identify with. It is a commonplace in small towns on Saturday night that the young dudes cruise up and down the High Street in pimped up small cars. Frequently a Renault Clio - yellow is good - with an enormous exhaust tailpipe. The exhaust has to be loud, of course, to still be intimidating over the dunga-dunga music on the hi-fi. When I still used to pay attention, these guys usually seemed to have very thin necks, sticking-out ears and white tee-shirts, though I suspect that, basically, they were just young and that was how young dudes looked at the time.
Well, in its day the Escort 16v must have been fairly mean on the street, with that vicious-looking air intake. I had forgotten how hard you have to drive a small car to get it to go, not helped by a clutch which has seen much better days - at least I hope it has. Unlike my normal lofty perch, I seem to drive along almost lying prone, vainly attempting to see through entirely the wrong bit of my varifocals, which is a major compromise to the boy-racer thing. Lorries suddenly have absolutely enormous wheels. The mileage isn't very high, and the engine seems to be in good shape but - 16 valves or not - you are very lucky to get up a hill in 5th without having to change down. It isn't even particularly economical. Its pulling power brings to mind a phrase involving the skins of rice puddings - I guess cars have improved since 1999. I also find that fellows in big Audis tend to sit immediately behind my rear bumper and try to hustle me along in a way which I am not used to. My only possible response is to turn the radio up full and cultivate a very bad attitude. I'm working on the sticking-out ears.