x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A friend's generous gift makes me feel like a kidnap victim

A new Rolls may be nice, but for excitement, drama and thrills nothing beats a beat-up old car.

There was news last week that Rolls-Royce, a carmaker synonymous with motoring excellence, is recalling 280 models of its Ghost brand (including 20 in the Middle East) after problems with a smouldering water pump. This may have owners reaching for the blood-pressure tablets (especially since the vehicles retail for Dh1.1 million), but for one benighted motorist at least - me - it's brought a twinge of relief.

Last weekend, I too, acquired my first new car. Or rather, the gift of a new car, offered by a close friend who had received an unexpected financial windfall and decided she would rather spread it among her friends than pay the swingeing inheritance tax demanded by the government if she kept it all herself. Her stipulation was that I must spend it on a new VW GTI Golf Cabriolet, to replace my aged and battered specimen.

The present, in the form of a cheque, was utterly unexpected, and true to thespian form, I immediately burst into tears and kissed everyone within a 20-metre radius, including, if memory serves, my friend's 10-year-old Chihuahua.

"Be careful what you wish for" runs the old saw. Until now I'd never been remotely near owning a new car, and in the ensuing days my brief moment of rapture has been supplanted by a gnawing anxiety.

It appears I've been afflicted by what is the motoring equivalent of Stockholm syndrome. This is the odd, inexplicable condition whereby kidnap victims eventually feel loyalty and affection for their captors: so much so that when they're eventually freed from bondage, they experience anxiety and loss, along with a desire to be back in the safe, secure world of their incarceration.

In my case, my feelings of love for something that daily threatens to end my life has been engendered over three decades of driving second-hand rust buckets. The inventory of death traps I've enjoyed resemble something you'd see clowns tumbling out of in your local circus than anything recognised by Henry Ford.

And like the poor kidnap victim, this is the only world I know. The prospect of owning a vehicle that starts every time, can negotiate corners without curious grating noises and that doesn't consume more oil than petrol on long journeys, is making me anxious and bewildered.

The fact is, I'm addicted to driving old bangers. Not only does it not matter one jot if you bash them around, but they guarantee a lifetime of thrills. No need to fork out stupendous sums to take a Formula One car for a spin to experience that giddy sensations of thrill, terror and danger that so attract Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

Even a trip to my local supermarket can be a nerve-shredding experience when the windscreen wipers don't operate and when the only equipment that doesn't make a noise is the horn.

But all that changed the moment I stepped inside my local VW dealership to select my new acquisition. As the sales assistant patiently explained, new cars come with things I don't understand -like reliability, for instance. Indeed, the interior of the one I chose was more like something out of Star Wars than anything I'd recognise as a car. Never mind the alloy wheels and satellite navigation system - I was even impressed by the autocooled glove compartment and the driver's beverage holder.

Eventually, my wife and I were persuaded to take it out for a spin. At first, I thought the curious shooshing noise each time I pressed the accelerator was merely the air conditioning system, but then I realised it was my wife sucking through her teeth every time I went above 40kmh.

Each time we passed within five metres of any object, animal, vegetable or mineral, she clutched at my sleeve with dire exhortations to be careful lest we dent the pristine paint job. Our brief spin proved one of the most miserable journeys of my motoring life - at least until I turned on the heating system and sent my wife into a heavy sleep.

So I for one won't rest easy until we've given my new toy a few scuffs. In the meantime, for those poor souls in Dubai chafing at the thought that their prized possession languishes in the factory, take heart. This may be your one chance to escape the trap. A new Rolls-Royce Ghost may seem like motoring heaven, but for excitement, drama and stomach-churning thrills, give me a battered 1975 VW with a faulty gearbox any day of the week.


Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London