'Still hanker for that childhood supercar? Maybe it’s time you stopped kidding yourself…'
S1 Esprits catch my eye for the purity of that sensational shape and the seats trimmed like Jackie Stewart’s most lurid underpants
In the aftermath of a debilitating stroke, a friend’s dad seemed downcast and, when asked why, said it was because his compromised dexterity meant he’d never achieve his ambition of learning the guitar. This seemed strange. In 70-odd years he’d never touched a guitar, nor shown any particular inclination towards playing one, and yet in the back of his mind he’d believed that one day, despite seven decades of evidence to the contrary, he’d get round to becoming a guitarist.
In one way this is quite a sad story of crushed dreams and a lost chance to rage against the dying of the light. On the other hand, it’s a perfect illustration of the way in which we all delude ourselves. Next year you’re going to get in shape. One day you’ll be a world-class tennis player. You look forward to the day you start learning how to paint watercolours. Men are especially good at kidding themselves about potentially life-changing endeavours that are always just around the corner, in the same way they’re especially good at claiming they could have once played for Arsenal or were a hit with the lay-deez when they were a teenager, as long as they’re talking to people who didn’t see life at the time through a cloud of Clearasil and self-doubt that made up years 14 to 19.
Deluding yourself doesn’t do anyone any favours. Sometimes it’s best to be honest, and with that in mind I’ve come to the recent realisation that I will never own a Porsche 959. Or a TVR Griffith 500. Or a Lotus Esprit. For many years, especially when I was younger, I was pretty convinced that one or all of these cars would be outside my house. Well it hasn’t happened yet, and it’s probably time to admit it never will. The 959 is a definite no-no for the simple reason that they cost about a million quid these days, and I don’t have a million quid. Also, it’s one of my very favourite cars from the 1980s, jockeying for position with the Ferrari 288 GTO I will also never own, and perhaps I should never drive one, never mind own one, for fear of disappointment.
The TVR, that’s a bit different. They’re not a million pounds, for starters. You could get into a perfectly decent one for under 30 grand. I’ve never driven one, but I have tried other TVRs so I know what I’m getting into and, if it’s wet, the answer is probably ‘a ditch’. The reason I’m never going to own one would seem absurd to 18-year-old me who lusted after the bright blue press car depicted in car magazines at the time: I think I’ve gone off it. In my late teens, the thought of roaring about the place in a powerful and rather beautiful convertible with a 5-litre V8 seemed about as good as it got. For many years afterwards I used to look at them in the used ads and dream of the day I’d have the cash to make this moderately realistic fantasy a reality. But with age comes wisdom, and in my 40s I’m wise enough to know that a 20-year-old car from a company never famed for its flawless quality regimes is going to be a massive pain in the tads to keep running.
For similar reasons, I’ve got to admit to myself that I will almost certainly never own a Lotus Esprit. These I still look at in the classic car listings. And, unlike the frustratingly rare 959, there’s usually quite a few for sale. The S1s always catch my eye for the purity of that sensational shape and the seats trimmed like Jackie Stewart’s most lurid underpants, but I’d be very happy with a mid-’80s Turbo. I still want an Esprit very much. Most people of a certain age do because to them this is the benchmark for what a supercar should look like.
Compared to other interesting things of the time, Esprits aren’t insanely expensive either, so that’s not necessarily a 959-style barrier to entry. But honestly, if I had an Esprit, what would I do with it? Try to explain to my wife why the doors inexplicably don’t open properly. Try to explain to the children that they can’t both get in because it doesn’t have enough seats. Try to explain to myself why it won’t bloody start again and is also on fire.
I’d like an Esprit, but I can’t see it fitting into my life very well. Nor, given how famously flaky they’ve always been, can I imagine where I’d go with it, apart from straight back home again. Which is why, with a heavy heart, I continue to browse ads for Esprits but I’ve made peace with the idea that, realistically, I’ll never own one.
There’s loads more cars in this category. Alfa SZs, original Mini Coopers, Ferrari Daytonas, VW Corrados, my list goes on and on. I’m sure yours does too. Cars you once dreamt of owning that still linger in the back of your mind and the front of your search history, and yet which, if you’re honest, will never be yours. Time and money aren’t limitless, and that’s why I think it’s important to accept there are some lusted-for cars I’ll simply never own. But I’m still confident that one day I’ll learn the guitar.