Britain’s roads are, they say, becoming a monochrome and sadly boring reflection of the past. It seems that some 90% of cars on the road today are black, grey, silver, or white. Yes there are some very dark blues out there as well, but overall it does seem to be true. My wife’s most recent choice of car was based mainly on the fact that there are hardly any bits (including the windows) that aren’t black. Though the fact that it also goes very fast was, I suspect, a contributing factor.
And I can’t dispute the assertion of monochrominity. Other than a bright yellow Renault 5 when I was very much younger, all my previous cars were either white or silver. Mainly it’s because, in my days as a traveling salesman, I always hankered over a white BMW 525i like those that regularly cruised past me as I ranged far and wide across our green and pleasant land. You could see the barely disguised traces of style and quality, with the promise of amazing levels of comfort and performance, as they glided by with the driver managing to simultaneously look down on my lesser mode of transport whilst maintaining an air of superiority.
Mind you, in the early days of that career path the companies I worked for did provide quite reasonable vehicles – what would now be referred to in the US as midsize middle-of-the-range models, such as the 1600cc Ford Cortina and Vauxhall Cavalier. Nice motors, though without features such as air conditioning, parking sensors, and all the other fancy bits that are pretty much standard these days. And we even managed without mobile phones and satnav (mainly because they hadn’t been invented then).
However, towards the end of that part of my life the gradually reducing profits of my trade were reflected in the quality of the car. My last employer, before I finally abandoned my itinerant career to become a full-time technical author, was owned by a group that also included a car dealer; and so I ended up with a 2 litre Nissan Primera as my final company car. Real diesel cars in those days were called “turbo-diesels”, but my Nissan had no such lofty aspirations. It was just a “diesel”.
From a standing start, the house-brick-like acceleration could whisk you to 60 miles per hour in around 25 seconds, and you had to change down to third gear on a motorway if there was the slightest uphill gradient. At traffic signals I would have 40-ton trucks hooting at me to get a move on as I valiantly fought with the gears and pedals to try and achieve an escape velocity of 30 mph. And if, in a sudden fit of courtesy I gave way to somebody at a junction, it would add twenty minutes to my travel time so I was late for my appointment.
I don’t recall ever hating a car as much as I did that one, and I suspect it played a large part in my decision to make a career change. Of course I was convinced that I could break it, thus demonstrating to my employer that is was an entirely inappropriate choice of vehicle for a salesman, but even that proved impossible. Driving 150 miles to London flat out in third gear had no appreciable effect on the thing, and it never missed a beat when I skipped every service and didn’t put any oil in it for 20,000 miles. My efforts had about the same destructive effect as firing a pea-shooter at an elephant.
In the end, just before I left, I unintentionally managed to bump into the back of a large and very old Volvo at a roundabout. The driver examined the small scratch on their rear bumper (fender) and drove off. I, meanwhile, delivered my car to the local Nissan repair shop to discover that the shunt had managed to shorten it by nearly an inch, and it would cost a couple of thousand pounds to repair. So I rented a very nice little Ford Escort while it was away and spent several idyllic weeks zooming around the countryside in what, compared to the Nissan, seemed like a racing car. I even managed to forget that the repair people had phoned to say my car was fixed, and kept the Escort for another three weeks before my boss noticed and made me switch back.
I think the only saving grace was, after I left, the hated vehicle became the company’s pool car so that – when my boss’s rather luxurious motor suffered a catastrophic engine failure – he had to spend three weeks driving the Nissan. After that they went to leasing cars instead, and gave the reps a choice of make and model. But I can almost guarantee that, 15 years later, the Nissan is still chugging around the country delivering urgent replacement product to customers or ferrying quality control inspectors on site visits.
And now, in my dotage-approaching years, I finally achieved those boyhood dreams of owning a white BMW. OK, so it’s not a 525i – surprisingly I went for a diesel one, though it comfortably out-performs anything I’ve had before. The strange thing was that, when I bought it some years back (see So, I Just Bought a Car from a Lady Prison Officer), it seemed like nobody in their right mind would buy a white one. Yet when the sales lady showed me the pictures I couldn’t resist. I suspect that her single aim in the car sales segment of her variable career was to sell some unsuspecting punter a white one; perhaps confirmed by the fact that she left shortly afterwards.
But what amazed me was that, within only a few months, the dealer’s showroom was full of white ones. Maybe the manager saw mine when it was delivered and suddenly recalled his own boyhood dreams. And when we recently visited an Audi dealer in Nottingham, every car in their showroom was white. So maybe I started a trend. Could it be that, after all, I’m partly to blame for our monochrome motorways, drab driveways, and colorless streets…?