If you’re going to have a mid-life crisis, at least get a decent set of wheels.
[We round out Driven to Write’s Kanniversary with this piece first published in November 2014]
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in his forties has a higher than average propensity to some form of mid-life introspection. As we know, the clichéd route to self-actualisation ranges from an inadvisable tattoo, to an inappropriate affair with a younger member of whichever gender he’s attracted to. Some choose to experiment with various derivations of the above. The more conventional opt for a sportscar or convertible. After all, just because you’re in the throes of a life event doesn’t mean you have to be original about it.
Anyway, in 2008 fitting the above description, in possession of a healthy severance package and an unhealthy dose of introversion, I elected to treat myself to a nice car. I was thinking Alfa GTV or Ford Puma, so the fact that I ended up with a Ford Ka suggests that as mid-life crises go, I had missed the point entirely. But it’s said confession is good for the soul, so in the interests of accuracy, closure and above all, your amusement I offer this Karnival of woe.
It all began innocuously enough as I trawled the classifieds, but despite my best efforts, could never find the exact model and specification I was after. Weeks passed and my resolve faltered. I flitted from Puma to Alfa – Alfa to Puma. But faced with endless choice, I chose nothing. Then one day, as a favour for a friend I test-drove a secondhand Ka and underwent something of a Damescene conversion. Since the car of my imaginings had so far failed to materialise, I reasoned I could slum it in a Ka for a few months until something better came along.
Within a short period of time I found one – low mileage, full-service history – a top-spec Ka3 with alloys, factory air and electric everything. Viewing it, I noticed a small spot of rust on the offside sill, but didn’t think much of it. And having lived with a totally rust-free 205 GTi for six years, I naively believed modern cars had the rust-bug licked. Apart from that, everything looked fine and impatient to get this whole ‘let’s buy a car today’ lark done, I put down a deposit. It was only when I got it home that the full extent of the rot was laid bare. The entire sill was rotten and the nearside one was heading the same way. Mortified, I tried (and failed) to get my money back, and with a growing sense of nausea, realised how much of a chump I’d been.
Stuck with the little rotbox, I treated it with barely veiled contempt. The pin-sharp steering, delightful gearchange, the deft handling and assured damping – none of these things I could bear to acknowledge. Instead I focused on the maddening irritants. Everywhere I looked, signs of cost cutting jumped out at me. The shocking carpet. The horrible dash plastics. The door locks that regularly ceased to function. The bonnet support that broke. The wheezing pushrod Endura E engine which provided forward motion, albeit not much. The interior rear view mirror that routinely became unstuck and dropped onto my lap as I drove. The sticking fuel filler cap. The Ford badges that discoloured and fell off, like fading Autumn leaves.
Then one late night I was sideswiped by a lunatic in a Passat, propelling Ka into a high kerb, bending the nearside wishbone into a shape Uncle Henry never quite envisaged. (Passat driver failed to stop). Ka was repaired, but was never quite the same thereafter. Some time later the air conditioning compressor caused the failure of the drive-belt tensioner mount, taking out it, the power steering and water pump.
My local garage told me the mount was insufficiently strengthened for the job in hand and to compound matters further, the spares supply had dried up. Ka’s from Valencia to Vienna and back again were off the road and nobody could do a damned thing about it. Mine remained immobile for well over a month – in desperation the garage owner had his mechanics fabricate a new (stronger) mount from scratch. I never used the air-con again.
Oh yes, and then there was the rust. Oh sweet loving mother of the divine, the rust. Ka’s corrode with an enthusiasm that is criminally vulgar – everywhere and utterly at random. Favourite places however are the A-pillars, around the fuel filler, the sills, the floorpan, the rear suspension mounts, the lower rear quarter panels and the base of the doors. But rot can appear just about anywhere.
It was time to do something decisive – like drive it over a cliff. Eventually, I offloaded it to a trader, saw a fraction of what I paid for it and promptly spent the meagre proceeds getting drunk. To my dismay, I ended up being a Ka owner for four years and while the silver blob never left me stranded, it stands as the most troublesome car I’ve owned.
Some day the Ka will be viewed as one of the more significant latter-day small cars and gain a devoted following, assuming rust hasn’t reduced survivors to small shavings of ferrous oxide; nice Ka – shame about the production engineering.
As for that mid-life crisis? Well if this demonstrates anything, it’s that I cannot be relied upon to have an existential episode without making a total pig’s ear of it. I think it died of embarrassment in the end – I almost did. But memories fade and I feel a good deal better now, so once I get a grip on things, I promise to review the situation…