Car Guy: Buying a Car
Occasionally, needs must, and a car guy has to buy a car. This can lead to much consternation.
Narrowing the choice down from many to one is a tough enough task at the best of times, but an enforced ceiling of £2,000 reduces the motoring selection box to unloved flavours closer to their sell-by date.
Interesting cars past their prime are worth a punt if you've got deep pockets, but I'm tighter than a Yorkshireman's grip around a 50 pence piece.
So, what to buy? Another Alfa? No, dubious electrics and tin worm. A fourth Citroen? Ditto the electrics with the added potential of hydropneumatic ills.
This time pragmatism kicked in, to a degree. I needed something lacking in mechanical complexity, easy to live with, dosed with a modicum of practicality, yet possessing delightful detailing and that je ne sais quoi all car guys crave.
One car appeared to become an obvious choice -- Ford's Puma.
The Puma was spun off Fiesta underpinnings, a small car which, by the end of the '90s, had endured more makeovers than Cher. Puma had glitz instead of Fiesta fustiness. Imagine Cherilyn Sarkisian in the spangly glory of that 1988 Oscar night dress, and you're headed in the right direction.
Having made my choice, the challenge was to find The One. Even with used cars I'm fastidious over details and never buy something that looks like it'd been doted on less than daily. Hopes that the classifieds would prove a happy hunting ground were short-lived.
Modding cars is a personal choice, but Halfords aftermarket gearknobs, non-standard alloys and chavtastic single-DIN stereos with a boot full of subwooferage are not my bag. I walked away from several without even bothering to knock on the vendors' doors.
My search forlorn, I decided to spend a little extra and run the used car dealer gauntlet. In this arena, standard cars were more commonplace, but finding one where the rear arch rot had been repaired properl,y was a challenge akin to David Dickinson's dermatologist discovering an area of his body not permanently Piz Buined.
Let's not get carried away here -- most car dealers are thoroughly decent and honest, and simply want to earn a sensible profit on their automotive wares. Except when I'm buying cars. Those ones seem to be on their breaks.
I get to be served by the type who'll swear that petrol-engined Rover 75 I'm caressing the rear wing of has got a Honda motor. The sort who "confirms" that first-generation Range Rovers sat lopsided to compensate for the camber of the road. Or who pronounce Mazda Xedos five different ways during their two-minute sales patter.
Do ever I mention that I know they're spinning me a yarn? No, I bite my lip for fear any hint of knowledge on my part will make them harden their stance and negate any chance of chipping down the asking price.
That resilience lasted until I went to view the bright red Puma that'd caught my eye.
All was going well. The dealer seemed like he'd bathed in anti-smarm, service history was thick and papery, the stance balanced, all the original interior trim was present and correct, and the rear wheel arches looked like they'd been re-fettled to a high standard.
He'd almost charmed the two grand from my wallet when he dropped in a line of weapons-grade bullshit.
"Of course, the reason Pumas rust so badly is because they were only designed to go on sale in Spain."
"Sorry?" blurted from my mouth, while the needle on my mental talking-bollocks meter nudged into the red.
"Yes, Ford didn't rust-proof the Puma properly as they never intended to sell it outside the Spanish mainland."
"So, with a straight face, you're telling me that one of the world's largest car manufacturers spent tens of millions of pounds developing a brand new, complex body-shell, modified a factory and its jigs to build it, retrained staff to assemble it properly, developed a unique engine that was shipped to Japan to be honed by Yamaha, to be then shipped back again for installation, spent months engineering it to be a brilliant drive and developed a slick marketing campaign using footage of Steve McQueen in Bullitt to promote it, only to ignore Europe's largest coupe markets, AND ONLY SELL IT IN SPAIN?!"
I never did buy a Puma. Oh, and it's pronounced Mazda Ker-say-doss.