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Our window cleaner drives a Bentley

Our window cleaner drives a Bentley.

Not an old Bentley. A new one, the type driven by Premier League footballers.

He doesn’t use it for work, obviously. For work he drives a small white van and charges £10 per house.

The subject came up because he saw the car outside my house and said, “My son has a car like that.”

Then he told me about the Bentley.

I was surprised but not as much as I might have been. Previously he’d told me about the Mercs, Audis and BMWs he’d owned.

Anyway, it got me thinking and a recent blog post by LBC broadcaster Iain Dale, who wrote about all the cars he has ever owned, inspired me to do the same.

Unlike Iain I’m no petrolhead but here in chronological order are the cars I've owned since passing my test (in my instructor's Ford Escort) in 1977:

Triumph Vitesse, 1981
I'm not certain I actually owned this car. It was bought by my father in 1968 to replace the previous family car, a Triumph Herald. The Vitesse was the sportier version of the Herald with a 2.0 litre engine and twin headlights. When we moved to Scotland in 1969 my father was given a company car - a Rover 2000 - and the Vitesse was passed on to my mother. Twelve years later, after I had left university and moved to London, she gave it to me. Superficially it looked in good condition. Inside it was immaculate with a beautiful wooden dashboard and leather seats, but underneath it was rusting badly and there was every chance it would soon fall apart, which is effectively what happened when I drove a client to a golf club in Essex for a photo shoot. (He was terrified!) The cost of repairing the fractured wheel struts was far more than the car was worth (or what I could afford) so I was advised to take it to a scrap yard and see what I could get for it. They gave me £25.

Ford Capri GT, 1981
Living in London there was no real need for a car but I wasn't done yet. A few months after the Vitesse fiasco I answered an ad in the Evening Standard and found myself on a grim estate in Croydon checking out a Ford Capri GT, 'Britain's very own Mustang', with three or four previous owners. Asking price: £440. It was dark but we went for a quick spin, the owner in the driving seat (literally and figuratively) because I wasn’t insured to drive it. I had never bought a car before and not knowing what to do I agreed, without haggling or inspecting it properly, to pay the full price. A couple of days later I went back to pick it up. In the cold light of day I saw that instead of being a rather cool shade of bronze the car was actually bright orange. As soon as I drove off I wound down the window. As I did so the glass fell into the door cavity. I had to stop the car, lift the pane out of the door (there was a little bit sticking out), realign it and hope it didn't happen again. (It did, frequently, until I got it fixed.) Driving round Marble Arch on my way home the gear lever came off in my hand and I could see the tarmac through a hole where the gear lever had been. I kept the car for six months before selling it for £300. I was so relieved.

Austin Metro, 1984-86
For the next two years I was happy enough without a car but as I entered my mid twenties I wanted the option of escaping London at weekends and the best way to do that was to have a car. My mother now had a Metro which I drove whenever I visited my parents. I just needed something small, cheap and reliable so I bought a light blue Metro ‘S’ for £600 from a used car dealer in Cricklewood. I had a Sony radio/cassette fitted and speakers installed on the rear parcel shelf. Sadly, like all British Leyland vehicles, rust and corrosion were underlying problems (literally). Returning from a National Trust event in Stourhead in Wiltshire the petrol tank split in two and a full tank of fuel poured on to the road while the car ground to a halt. The AA got us home but not until six in the morning.

Ford Fiesta XR2, 1986-91
In the early Eighties a friend had a first generation XR2. He went on to own a string of prestigious executive cars, including an enormous Lexus, but nothing, he said, gave him as much pleasure as his Fiesta. I knew what he meant. In December 1986 I bought a secondhand mercury grey XR2 Mk II. It wasn’t the best car I've ever had but it was probably the most fun. A ‘hot hatch’ for 'boy racers', it was, relatively speaking, a big step up from the Metro. Low driving position, bigger engine and far better acceleration, it could give the Golf GTI a run for its money and was great on country roads. One of my favourite memories is driving it in North Wales but it was pretty good on motorways too. I left London once at 6.00am and arrived in Glasgow at 11.00. That would have beaten the train, I think. Sadly it was stolen from outside my house in Camberwell when I was away on holiday and I never got it back.

Ford Fiesta XR2i, 1991-94
I replaced the stolen vehicle with a bright red third generation XR2i, a very different car that wasn’t half as fun to drive. Like the previous model however it attracted the attention of local thieves who robbed me of my spare wheel and, in a second incident, smashed the rear window in an attempt to steal the entire car. (Camberwell was a great place to live at that time!) They failed not because of the crook lock on the steering wheel (they had that off in seconds) but because they couldn’t start the engine, a regular problem with that car. Thankfully it behaved itself on our wedding day when we led a small convoy from Glasgow to Skye.

Rover 216 GTI, 1994-2001
The imminent arrival of our first child meant we needed a slightly larger, more reliable car with easier access to the rear seats so I bought a three-year-old Rover 216 GTI. One of the second generation Rover 200 series, it had a Honda engine, twin exhausts, a large rear spoiler and 15 inch (!) wheels. In a weird way it felt like my first ‘grown up’ car. This was partly because my father, now retired, had the Honda Concerto, which was effectively the same vehicle. The Rover eventually succumbed to two things – five years being all shook up on the Edinburgh cobbles and that old British failing, rust and corrosion – but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Ford Focus, 2001-05
I bought a first generation Focus in haste because the Rover needed replacing before we went on holiday to France and I only had two weeks to sort it out. Voted top car of the last 25 years by readers of Auto Express in 2013, it was a perfectly good car but I found it rather anonymous. My biggest regret however was not buying one with a CD player. When everyone was buying CDs my car still had a cassette player.

Audi A4, 2005-08
I average 25,000 miles a year. The thought of a diesel horrified me but financially it eventually made sense. So the second generation 1.9 TDI SE was not only my first ‘compact executive saloon’, it was also my first car with a diesel engine. Initially I hated it. In particular there was a vibration in the accelerator pedal I had never experienced in a petrol car. For several weeks I felt I’d made a terrible mistake and thought briefly about returning it. I got used to it, to be fair, and it never let me down, but I found it rather bland, inside and out. A good car, but dull.

Mercedes C-Class, 2008-13
Another diesel. Some motoring journalists were a bit sniffy about it but I loved almost everything about this third generation C-Class. Diesel engines were becoming increasingly refined and unwelcome clatter was mostly a thing of the past. The 220d Sport was also my first automatic. I had dismissed the idea of an automatic for years on the grounds that no 'proper' driver would drive one, but I was persuaded that if I bought a manual I would be in a very small minority of Mercedes' drivers and it would be harder to sell. I didn't regret it. The foot-operated parking brake was a bit weird but that car clocked up over 100,000 miles, including a trip to Zurich, and the rest of the family have still not forgiven me for selling it.

BMW 3-Series, 2013-18
The 320d M Sport was my third diesel and much as I loved my Merc the fifth generation 3-Series was a better car, which is why I kept it for five years and 128,000 miles. During that time I did my best to improve the reputation of BMW drivers but I can’t deny the fact that many are complete arseholes. The cars though are hard to beat and although many are designed for the autobahn, the 3-Series is equally at home on twisty country roads. A joy to drive and after enduring a number of punctures with the Mercedes it was good to have the insurance of run-flat tyres. Here it is, outside my house shortly before I sold it. Missing you already ...

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