Once in a lifetime…
The number of independent car manufacturers in the U.K in 1922: 183. Germany’s complement around the same time: 86. The number of cars produced in France in 1929 (then by far Europe’s largest producer) by a truly wide and varied number of companies: 253 000. This figure would remain a record till well after 1945. If you had a few bob between the wars and motoring was your fancy the choice available to you was truly vast. Mind you researching the purchase must have been a little more difficult than today. Nowadays we are told how much choice we have but anyone reading this site knows just how much crap that is.
It seems to me that before long it will be illegal to buy a car if it isn’t burdened with VW’s dreary 1.6 TDi or even worse Renault/Nissan’s life sapping 1.5 DCi. It might not be obvious from my gritty prose but I am prone to an occasional daydream. On these instances when my mind wanders I often think what if there was no choice? Or to be more accurate, what if you only got to choose once? What if you could choose any car for your 17th birthday but that was it. It was to be your only car till death do you part. Learning to drive and passing the driving test, impressing girls (or boys), raising kids (if they were part of the plan), transporting all those fridges and large screen TVs, ease of access and egress as your back gets stiff with old age and perhaps most important something that will please both your eye and driving senses for potentially 65 years. This is surely the ultimate compromise. Does such a car exist?
There is no budget and any production car ever manufactured is eligible for consideration. The (arbitrary) restrictions I placed on myself were that it couldn’t be in any way adapted or modified once it left the factory and roofboxes (racks etc) or towbars were unallowed cheats.
I quickly discounted all the fancy stuff. At the age of 17, although I was an extremely enthusiastic driver, I was not really possessed of the skills to match all this verve. A Porsche 959 (the car I drooled over for the second half of the 80’s) would surely have meant I never saw my 18th birthday.
At first glance an SUV might seem to be a runner. Then of course I realised that I would have to drive/look at an SUV for 60 years. Next please.
What I needed was something that would age well and look out of place in as few places as possible. A 5 door hot hatch perhaps? Then again clambering out of a bright blue OPC Opel at 70 was never in the program. What I really wanted to pick was a Q car, a debadged Phaeton W-12 sprang to mind. However when it came to the crunch I just felt that never being able to push the rear seat backs forwards coupled with only 4 seats was a compromise too far.
I finally settled on a car that despite its flaws ticks many of the boxes that would need to be ticked to pleasantly spend a lifetime on the road. A Mercedes E320 S124. A straight six is a good start – if I’m only getting one engine it had better be a good one. 220hp (give or take) is enough to enjoy a squirt in the fast lane yet still make it possible to make it to my twenties. After less dithering than I would have thought I settled on an automatic. The styling maybe be understated but it has class and will age better than almost anything else out there. Apart from perhaps the local disco is there anywhere this car would not feel at home? From the auction hall right up to a fancy hotel nobody would be surprised to see this slice of elegant motoring. 7 seats, massive boot and properly put together. I’m going to slightly bend my own rules and have it with the little vents in the front wing that help the turbodiesel versions breathe more easily. Not quite sure why but I’ve always liked how they look. The only flaw I can think of is where do I put my Panama hat when I attain old duffer status?
Is there a better car for this impossible role? I don’t think so….