Thursday, March 26, 2015

Maybe an Alfa

Almost a year ago. Lying in a hospital bed. Minus one end of a left foot toe. Amputated.

So, there I was, staring at the ceiling, wondering not only if I'd walk again but also if I'd ever drive again or ride a motorbike again (a fully functioning left foot comes in handy for operating the clutch in a car and for changing gear on a motorcycle).

I was a worried man.

Luckily, about a week later, I left hospital having been assured by the chief medic that, despite having stitches in my foot, I should be able to drive home, no problem. And he was right too. However, the damage had been done. The seed of uncertainty had been planted in the cars and bikes section of my brain. I decided to ditch my car with its manual gearbox and get an auto, just in case another problem arose with my left foot.

My post-op medication consisted of three pills to be taken daily. One of these little horrors had the side effect of causing my foot to swell up due to water retention, or whatever. This meant none of my shoes fitted. However, I modified an old sandal which I managed to squeeze into. Attired thus, I was just about able to drive, though operating the clutch was a bit of a challenge. The search for an auto became a priority. But should I go for a big sporty auto such as a Jaguar or Audi, or a little economical runaround such as a Twingo or Civic? As usual, I couldn't really decide. And then, of course, there's the prickly problem of budgetry constraints.

My search for an auto became an obsession. Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. I lost count of the cars I nearly went for. By this time the pill that caused my foot expansion had been swapped for another which reduced the swelling so my shoes fitted again. Gear changing worries took a back seat as foot problem memories faded from my mind. Then the search for a car took a new direction. Instead of looking for a boring old auto, I decided to look for a proper driver's car. Possibly an Alfa Romeo. Maybe one with that fabulous six cylinder, 3.2 litre, Busso engine (Google it - it's a cracker). After all, I'm in my late sixties and I can't have that many driving years left, so why not have one final fling? Good brief, huh?

Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, my faithful runaround, the Citroen ZX, 1.4 litre, cheapo dogwagon, was being as reliable as ever. Strange; you only really notice a car when it goes wrong, not when it goes right. It suddenly dawned on me that this boring little car was a winner in every respect, apart from providing sheer driving pleasure, or whatever it is that Alfa drivers rave about. So maybe if and when I get an Alfa (or whatever) I'd be well advised to keep the ZX. That way I could use the ZX for trips to the local supermarket etc. and use the Alfa for longer trips and Sunday drives.

Looking back, I must have checked out hundreds of possible contenders on the Leboncoin website. Almost bought an immaculate, low mileage, Mercedes 190e auto from a chap down Nice way. And a stunning Audi A4 auto from someone up north. But in both cases I chickened out at the last moment, unconvinced that a 'sensible' auto was really what I wanted. I also looked at a few 'mini' autos such as a Renault 5 and a VW Polo but turned 'em down. Then there was an Alfa 166 with a 3 litre (alas, not a 3.2) engine that I almost went for but decided against at the last moment due to Alfa reliability and cambelt worries. Another Alfa I almost bought was a 147 in excellent nick with low miles being sold by a small-time dealer up Montlucon way. Decided against it though. Bit pricey for me at almost €6k. Another car I went to see was a fab, low mileage, auto, Ford Scorpio with V6, 2.9 litre, Cosworth engine. Drove well in a wafting sort of manner but some reliability issues which I discovered on the internet put me off.

Then I spotted a belter: a one owner, auto, Merc 190e with just 27k kms in very good condition being advertised by a small-time dealer (there are a lot in France) up near Laval up north. Phoned the dealer and said I'd be up there by teatime. Drove there (took seven hours) and arrived at 5pm. By 5.10 I knew it was a wasted journey. Apparently it had been owned by a lady down near Biarritz. She's died and the car had been parked up for a couple of years. Sea air had caused rust and corrosion in the engine bay. And probably underneath. Walked away. Booked into a hotel overnight and drove back home the next day.

Then, as is often the case in a motor hunt, disappointment is followed by elation. I spotted a gem. A low mileage, 6 cylinder, 2 litre, manual gearbox, BMW 320i with a main dealer service history being advertised locally at nearby Egletons by a car-mad gendarme with a young family who wanted to replace it with a 'family' car. Saw it that afternoon and did the deal. Collected it a few days later. That was just over a week ago. No regrets. The search for the perfect driver's car for someone with a limited budget (I allowed €5k but only spent 3) had lasted a year. But I got there in the end.