Family Trees

This week it will be 9 years since my dad passed away after a short battle with pancreatic cancer; undoubtedly this has had a massive effect on my life and my family, but without my dad’s influence for the first 16 years of my life I would not be the person I am today and that of course includes my interest (OK borderline obsession) with cars. Although bikes and cycling were the main focus of my dad’s interests, cars came a reasonably close second and throughout my childhood our home was littered with car magazines  and the like which helped stoke my passion for all things auto.

That’s not to say I have not developed my own preferences though, as my dad’s interest tended to be rooted in models from the late 60’s through to the late 80’s…a period I have never held much of a candle for, but as I have grown older I can totally understand the preference for products of our youth – I can’t foresee me enjoying reading about future vehicles as much as I do of those from the late 90’s through to the present day. However I do sometimes wonder what my dad would have made of the way that the car market (and of course the world in general) has developed in the last 9 years, and what our family’s motoring story would have involved if things had panned out differently.

Therefore I’ve decided to do a short list with some of the modern equivalents of cars which have sat on my family’s driveway in years gone by. Admittedly it is unlikely that we would have ever swapped one of our more ‘classic’ models for their new counterparts, but I’m sure that my dad’s interest would have at least piqued a little when I shoved a brochure or two in his face.

Lotus Elan:

lotus to mazda

Although the Lotus my dad owned was his oldest purchase, it was the only one which I never got to see working. Indeed up until the day we got rid of it the car sat in our old (asbestos ridden) garage covered in grime and bicycle parts, more a shelving unit made out of fiberglass and chrome! Although Lotus still make cars (just about), the only similar thing with the Elan is that they are very lightweight and come with a 4-cylinder engine…they are a lot more hardcore than the back road carvers of the past and more suited to track days and weekend use. Undoubtedly the modern equivalent of the Elan is Mazda’s evergreen MX-5; launched back in 1989 and taking direct inspiration from the concept and appearance of this original Elan, the MX-5 has gone on to be a worldwide success and has just been launched in it’s fourth generation. This new car is a little more edgy in it’s looks than past cars but it has also shed a lot of weight from what has never been a particularly heavy car (even with optional hard top) and that has paid off in terms of handling, fuel consumption and performance too. I know my dad wouldn’t have wanted an MX-5 as he didn’t show any interest in any of the previous versions, but other soft top roadsters like the BMW Z4 and Audi TT are just too expensive and complicated to be considered spiritual successors.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk I:

golf to ibizang

I’ve previously mentioned in passing the white GTI which was part of my childhood and normal life for many years, and indeed the Mk I Golf proved to be a reasonably practical and quick family car even if it wasn’t used on an everyday basis. My dad originally bought the Golf as a replacement for the decrepit VW Beetle that my mum had driven for the past few years – with a baby on the way (me!) there was need for a more practical hatchback and a vehicle which didn’t break down at an alarming rate. As it turned out my Mum didn’t get along with the heavy steering of the Golf or the fact that the (normal) pedal arrangement was different from the very distinctive one in the Beetle. When we bought the GTI it was a mere 6 years old but because of the iconic status of the car it stayed as my dad’s weekend toy until we sold it in 2006 –  I doubt we would have gotten rid of it anytime soon but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that another hot hatch would have ended up on our driveway. The current Golf GTI is a good car but prices have creeped up to an average of £25k for a mid-spec model, and although the Polo GTI is more in keeping with the size of the original Golf, it still comes across as a little numbed. Far more interesting are cars like the Seat Ibiza FR and Skoda Fabia VRS…admittedly the Skoda’s performance variant is being discontinued soon but the Ibiza is a model that my dad used to express interest in and we very nearly bought one once.

BMW 2002:

2002 to 120i

The BMW is probably the most mentioned of my dad’s old cars, maybe because it’s the most interesting or maybe because of the fact it’s a BMW. I won’t retread old ground too much but our white 1973 BMW 2002 was one of the later models to be produced before BMW’s compact saloon was replaced by the all-conquering 3 Series in 1975. When factory fresh the little Beemer was a classy machine, with chrome alloy wheels and a long bonnet it made an impression on my young mind (so much so that my parents stuck a BMW sticker on the steering wheel of my go-kart), but sitting on the hard standing at the back of our garden meant that the 2002 became riddled with rust and those glorious chrome wheels peeled in the sun. Inside the seats had seen better days and the rear bench was never fitted with seatbelts meaning it was rare we ventured out in it as a family. As with all cars, BMW’s smallest saloon has grown considerably in the over 40 years (!) since the 2002 left the factory, and so the current 3 Series is more comparable to the 1970’s 7 Series in terms of dimensions and features. I do however think my dad would have been reasonably interested in the recently departed 1 Series Coupe, with it’s quirky styling and compact size it is the closest successor to the E36 generation 3 Series that BMW have produced (and by extension the 2002 too). The new 2 Series sort of builds on this legacy, with more sorted styling and larger dimensions, but ultimately a softer driving experience and higher price.

Vauxhall Astra DualFuel:

astra to leaf

Besides an interest in cars, something I have inherited from my dad is being sensible with money – and believe it or not (given my ownership of a 2-tonne SUV with a thirst for diesel), it’s something that carries through to my motoring habits too. The Astra which I used to own was the last vehicle my dad purchased and also the newest at just a year old, but besides being relatively practical and inoffensive to look at the main reason we chose the Vauxhall was because of the low running costs thanks to it’s LPG capability and the low price of that fuel. Unfortunately for me the LPG system packed up months before my Mum sold the car to me, so I never benefited from the cheaper costs, but as an alternative to a generic diesel it was a interesting purchase. There are even fewer cars which can be specified as standard with LPG (or CNG) in the UK, so alternatives to regular engined cars are limited to hybrids or increasingly nowadays electric vehicles. Honestly there is probably no way in hell that we would have ever got either but Nissan’s Leaf would present probably the most interesting alternative to my financially shrewd dad.

Volkswagen Beetle:

beetle to mini

Although my dad’s BMW 2002 or Golf GTI were (probably) my first experience in life of riding in a car, the vehicle in which I spent much of my first couple of years was in an original shape Volkswagen Beetle. Although technically my mum’s wheels (she was unfortunate enough to have it as her main wheels), I am pretty sure that she would not have chosen such a family unfriendly ride or one riddled with rust. In what was a pattern that continued until we bought the Astra in 2004, the Beetle only had 2 front doors and so fitting 2 child seats and squeezing a couple of toddlers into them must have been pure hell. In addition the rear engine layout meant that there was no boot/luggage space – I honestly have no clue how my mum managed to squeeze a double buggy and baby paraphernalia into the small storage compartment at the front of the Beetle, especially when most mothers nowadays seem to insist on something Range Rover-sized is a bare minimum for anyone with more than one offspring.  The Beetle also proved to be horribly unreliable, with break downs frequent and foggy memories of miles-long treks in a buggy back from supermarkets and swimming lessons…maybe we just had a unlucky example or maybe it was the fact that the car was 20 years old when we owned it, but either way it totally ruined the appeal of the classic bug design from a young age. The ‘New’ Beetle was launched back in 1998 (and the new ‘New’ Beetle in 2011), but my dad never showed any interest in the feminised curvy version of the Golf and instead harboured a hankering for another retro-mobile of the early 00’s. The new MINI has ultimately proved to be a much more successful car for owners BMW and has been developed into an entire brand rather than just one cheeky model. I never had my dad down as a fan of the MINI until he was ill and mentioned it on a list of cars he would have considered swapping the Astra for…maybe he had a thing for impractical 3drs but I suspect it may have been the car’s compact dimensions, fun handling and BMW roots which made the car appealing for him. A mere 14 years since MINI’s relaunch and the core hatchback is already on it’s 3rd generation – I am not a fan of it’s bloated looks on the whole but in 5 door guise it makes an interesting alternative to other superminis, and who knows it may end up being my mum’s next car!

9 years is a long time for anyone and the last 9 for me has seen my life change in a lot of ways, but I would be very interested to see what my dad would have made of my current car…I doubt a big 4×4 would have been his cup of tea but it is a BMW nonetheless 🙂


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