Think of journalism, and many a young lad’s mind will turn to the motoring motormouth himself, Mr Jeremy Clarkson, and it’s not difficult to see why. It seems like the dream job to many – fast cars and glamorous locations – what’s not to like?
I love Top Gear (although I prefer James May to JC) but have never really fancied myself as a motoring journalist. While I do love cars and driving, I didn’t pass my test until I was in my thirties and that took me 5 attempts. My motoring stories will always be bereft of teenage tales and rites of passage nonsense. I learned to drive, bought a small, modest car that would get my music gear from gig to gig the then carried on as if I’d been driving all my life.
I drove a basic old Vauxhall Corsa (which I sold for £100 the week before it exploded), then a red Ford Puma which was nice but fundamentally very rusty, before finally alighting on a base model Fiat Punto – surely one of the most spiteful and horrid pieces of automotive engineering ever to darken some tarmac. That was until one evening at band rehearsal in Leeds. We were stood outside in the car park on a break and I was smoking a cigarette and looking at Danny’s silver Clio Sport 172. He looked on too, rather sadly, I thought.
“I’m selling it actually.” he said, as if prompted.
“Yeah, I need something cheaper to run. It drinks fuel like it’s going out of fashion.”
“How much are you wanting for it?” I asked.
“Well, I’m asking £1750 but I’d take £1500.”
I threw my cigarette into the road and thought hard for a couple of seconds.
“Okay, I’ll see you Saturday.”
Saturday came around and I knocked on his back door. In my inside pocket was a brown envelope containing £1500, courtesy of the Royal Bank of Mum. To my left was Gary, my friend and mechanic, who’d agreed to give her the once over. Not that I didn’t trust Danny, mind, just that he knows as much about the internal workings of cars as I do, i.e. not a lot, and Gary would be able to identify any banging noises that told of wallet ruining problems deep within. Gary jumped in the back (immediately noticing the lack of legroom) and Danny climbed in as passenger and held onto the grab handles. I slid behind the wheel.
The first thing I noticed about the Clio was the clutch. It is what motoring journalists like to call ‘rather heavy’. More than that, it’s a hero clutch. Seriously – the thing could have been taken from an 80s Countach. You need a strong leg to operate it, and this isn’t helped by how notchy it can be. Still, adrenaline was high so I just pushed the accelerator, dumped at 4000rpm and away we kangarooed.
I’d love to tell you in great detail how that first drive felt but I’ve forgotten most of it even though it was less than two years ago. It was certainly the quickest thing I’d ever driven, and I think this dominated the experience. Flooring it out of junctions was a real joy and the way that the engine found the limiter and howled all the way to it was intoxicating for a performance car neophyte such as myself. After twenty minutes Danny was starting to worry I might blow it up so we turned back towards the house. We stood on the pavement and watched it tick and Gary had a quick look underneath and pronounced her unlikely to die any time soon. I said to Danny that I’d have it. Even after the test and the presence of the mechanic he still looked pretty shocked when I handed over the cash – so much so that he gave me the car keys without removing the ones for his front door (I had to drive back the day after to return them) and left most of his CD collection in the door cards and glove box. We raced home the long way, me in the Clio and Gary in his Saab turbo. I think I used half a tank of petrol in twenty miles and didn’t stop smiling the whole way. I was, it has to be said, quite pleased with myself.
18 months on and the Clio is still in my hands. If you’re looking to buy a Clio Sport, this is what I’ve learned.
Part 2 to follow…