From my seat on the school bus – back row, middle seat; it was the early ’90s and I was in the upper sixth, so those were the rules – I could see the long bonnet poking out of the side turning ahead. I could also see exactly what happened next, which was the car pulling out onto the main road ahead of us, kicking into a lurid powerslide, slamming nose first into the side of a lorry coming in the opposite direction and then bouncing through 180 degrees back across the road and coming to rest in a hedge. And that is how my mate Bricey wrote off his Ford Capri.
It wasn’t normal for a 17-year-old to have a Ford Capri 1.6L in 1992. At that point, almost 30 years ago, the Capri was too recent to be a classic but too old-fashioned to be anything but an embarrassment. Trouble was, Bricey’s dad had promised to get his son driving lessons and a cheap runaround for his 17th birthday.
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‘You lucky bastard,’ we said when this latter news was imparted in the sixth-form common room. The likely options seemed clear, and mostly boiled down to Fiesta versus Nova versus Metro. But Mr Brice didn’t think about this. He just went down to the King William in town and asked a used car dealer he drank with for the cheapest car the man had in stock. Which was an unwanted Capri.
Bricey learnt to drive in that car, passed his test in that car, took us on one trip to a distant pub in that car, started driving to school in that car and then, one damp winter evening while trying to race the school bus by taking a shortcut down the back lanes, stuffed it into the side of a lorry. Bricey was unhurt but the uncool coupe was a write off. In just a few weeks our mate had got a car, learnt to drive it and then broken it beyond repair. It was textbook.
I’ve dredged this story from the stagnant canal of my mind because I’m soon to be Bricey’s best man and, as tradition dictates, I’m trying to remember moments when he was a daft bastard so that I might relay them to a room full of tipsy people as a mark of affection. But in fact, off the back of this tale what I’ve started remembering are all those times that people I knew when I was 17 had moments of teenage idiocy in cars.
The day Nick Jennings from our year took a sweeping downhill bend too fast in his ratty old Mini, slid into a field and gently turned it upside down, but managed, with help, to get it back on its wheels and then popped the roof back into shape by pushing with his feet up from the inside so that, after some intense polishing, his dad was none the wiser.
That time Jon Wilde from the year above was driving his Metro GTa down a gravel track, wondered how fast he would have to go before he lost control and wrote off his car, and then found out.
The infamous incident in which Nick Easingwood wondered if he could operate the pedals of his mum’s faded Mk2 Cavalier using only his hands and promptly rear-ended the car in front.
The night Mike Harris was showing off how easy it was to do handbrake turns in his mum’s breadvan Polo and almost rolled it in a deserted Sainsbury’s car park. And another evening when I bet Mike Harris I could cling to the bonnet of that same Polo while he drove along and discovered that 20mph feels bloody fast when you’re prostrate on the front of a small Volkswagen, held on only by your fingernails.
And that was just my school, and indeed things I can remember from it. Frankly it’s a miracle that someone wasn’t hurt, or worse. But that’s teenage boys for you. Teenage boys are frigging idiots, especially where cars are concerned. The amount of inexperienced and idiotic driving that went on in our early years of unsupervised access to cars is terrifying. The amount of people who were in those cars at the time is, in retrospect, a bit of a worry too. I think our record was eight in a Mk1 Golf. Maybe nine. It made a lot of scraping sounds.
My son is currently five. I have a feeling the world will be very different by the time he’s old enough to take his driving test. Mobility will mean a very different thing to his generation, brought up on app-booked cabs and car sharing systems rather than the excitable hope that your mate’s dad might buy him a crap car from a man in a pub.
Maybe my boy won’t own a car, or even learn to drive, and perhaps none of his mates will either. As a middle-aged man looking back with warm nostalgia on the things we got up to with cars when we were 17 or 18, that makes me sad. But as a father, frankly it makes me extremely relieved.