Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Automatic for the people

Anyone following this drivel will have noticed that my life has been the last resting place of what frankly were a whole bunch of dirt cheap sheds.

Most of my cars, certainly, have been merely stopping off on their way to the scrapyard.

But there is one motor vehicle which broke that mould – my Nissan Primera 2 litre SE Automatic.

Ideally suited for the executive car park

This is the single most gorgeous motor car I have ever owned.

True, on the surface it’s a very ordinary saloon car and nothing special. But after Fiat 126s, ancient Escorts and decrepit Avengers it shines like a diamond.

The Nissan was my 41st birthday present. It used to belong to my mum's husband Bob, who had passed away, and my mum didn’t want it, because it was just too damn big for her.

He had damn good taste. He bought the car as an ex-demo and being a canny devil, he ended up with a car with every single goodie added for nowt.

So I leapt from the driving seat of a rattly old Renault 11 into the world of luxury motoring. In order to get the motor I had to drive it from London to Edinburgh, and then back from Edinburgh to Somerset.
Getting behind the wheel I luxuriated in the leather seats, air conditioning, and CD auto changer – hell’s teeth, on most of my motors you had to slow down to hear the radio over the roar of the engine. It had big fat alloy wheels, and a deliciously smooth automatic gearbox.

It purred.

It purred all the way home and  purred on for another 80,000 miles in my ownership – once whisking the family of four to the Scottish Highlands on a traditional motor tour of the kind people just don't do any more,  mile-munching effortlessly with a full load up, and camping gear three feet high on the roof.
C'mon kids! It'll be fun!
The air con was a revelation in traffic jams, as was the gearbox. For a while I was loath to use the air con as I was told that it made the car use more fuel, so I drove with the widows open. Then someone pointed out that actually this was a false economy.
Most modern cars have been very carefully designed in wind tunnels for aerodynamic efficiency. Drive with the windows down and this all goes, well, out of the window.
The rush of air increases the drag, and you use more fuel as a result. Allegedly.

I spent three happy years zooming round corners, with the car never putting a wheel out of place, and it was actually quite easy to work on – just a bit chunky in the engineering department. I did get hit by a tree on the Wedmore road in it, and it snapped off the radio aerial and cracked the windscreen – yes that’s right, I was hit by a tree – not the other way round.
 It had been felled by the overheight lorry I was driving behind, and bounced off his roof, swinging down into my path.
The chaps in the cars behind had looks on their faces that said “how the hell did you get away with that?” and I’m not sure myself. The windscreen had to be replaced with a wallet-lightening bill for nearly £400.
By now with just over 100,000 miles on the clock the beast was beginning to show its age, and as one might expect the odd thing started to go wrong with it. The air conditioning only worked when it felt like it and the CD autochanger got very temperamental. For some reason it only really liked the Clash, and Wagner. It also snapped a drive shaft clean in two in the centre of town, and hereby hangs a cautionary tale. I phoned Nissan and asked if they could get a replacement shaft – just the metal bit – and they said sure – as long as I could wait six weeks for one from Japan and could pay £350 for it. A driveshaft specialist in Newport wanted £200 for a reconditioned one. So I went on the internet to look for a secondhand one. You would have thought that as the Primera was pretty popular there would be a few in the scrap yards, but no – eventually I signed up to a part finder service – who said, by a text costing £3.50, they had found one at a breakers in Birmingham – I called the breakers – they said they had one and wanted £60 for it. But it was for a car without ABS. So it was the wrong one. I figured that actually as all I needed was the metal shaft, I could use the bits off my old shaft using the necessary bit from the non-ABS one, but decided to keep searching anyway. Then I got another expensive text.
The Birmingham breakers had one from an ABS motor after all and they wanted £85. So I bought it. And guess what. It wasn’t from an ABS motor at all – it was the original shaft, they had just lied to me – by now I was desperate to get back on the road, so I cannibalised it and just decided to put the £25 price difference down to experience.
Three weeks later I got another text from the part finder service asking if I needed any more parts. At £3.50. Then another. And another. It was six texts before I finally got them to stop sending them. The lesson being, be careful who you give your mobile number to.
 Sadly, after putting 80,000 miles on the Nissan, it got less and less use.
The trouble is that  a 2 litre fuel injected dohc engine and an automatic gearbox isn't exactly eco-friendly.
With increasing maintenance needs, 240 miles a week at 18mpg and petrol at what was then a quid a litre, what you get is impending bankruptcy.
God knows how anyone affords to run anything bigger than a 1.8 now.
I started using the good lady's ridiculously frugal Peugeot 106 Diesel, rather than the thirsty Nissan.
So eventually it was parked up when the tax and MOT ran out, and with a house move on the way, an advisory note on the last MOT that the catalytic converter was on its way out costing another £600 and the impending departure of my off-road parking it had to go. I sold it to a second hand dealer for £200.
I think he sent it abroad, and it's probably being a taxi in Estonia or Liberia or something.
I do apologise to Bob, but on my salary the Primera was just a fast road to financial ruination. I doubt I'll ever own such a superb motor car again.