Amid the Pandemic’s height, a reminder of a more resilient time.
There is a certain perverse satisfaction in driving what in automotive terms amounts to an old shoe. Banger, beater, clunker or jalopy – whatever term you prefer, once a car reaches a certain level of decrepitude, the keeper soon realises that not only is there no route back, but that they have been released – freed from the grinding tyranny of upkeep. It is now possible to park the wretched thing anywhere, to take all manner of traffic-related liberties: ‘oh really matey, you want some, do you?‘
During my early, impecunious years in London, I rattled around the capital in a spectacularly decrepit X-reg Fiat 127. It had left the Mirafiori factory red in colour, but had faded to something a good deal less vibrant in tone – I let the rain wash it. It had mismatched bumpers, and if memory serves, half a grille – not exactly the one it left the factory with either. The doors would have made excellent colanders.
I drove that Fiat like I had stolen it and took few prisoners in the cut and thrust of Hyde Park Corner, the Fulham Palace Road or the Elephant and Castle. White van man frequently thought about it, then thought better. The Metropolitan police could never believe the thing was road legal, so I spent a good deal of time handing out my particulars to a predictable array of good cop/bad cop duos. It finally gave its last, one wet Saturday afternoon on Wandsworth bridge – a scrappy took it away on a flatbed and I became twenty quid better off. Seemed fair.
Today’s example of automotive decrepitude lies closer to what your West Cork correspondent (he’s lying low for the present) now calls home. The photos were in fact taken earlier in the year, when this part of Ireland was in the midst of what the New Zealand premier (congratulations on your re-election, Jacinda) described as ‘hunkering down’ amid the first C-19 wave.
I have seen this Passat about town a number of times since these photos were taken. It’s a working car (in both senses of the term) and one that has clearly served its keeper faithfully. As much as the Irish climate tends to reduce cars to ferrous shavings over a relatively short space of time, vehicles like this one are nowadays rare sightings, largely because people have become a good deal more self conscious about appearances and decent cars have become a good deal more affordable.
All of which makes this, not only something of a throwback to an earlier, less outwardly affluent era, but perhaps a what might constitute a contrarian statement in these more is more times. At what point does a car go from being a statement of attainment – to being its inverse – to being an anti-statement?
There is an honesty and unambiguous authenticity to this car which gives me a sense of pleasure I’m not sure I can wholly explain. It lies in the gaps between words, in that nebulous idea of outside. As our lives increasingly become acts of capitulation to someone’s idea of consumerist perfection, there is something thrillingly subversive about a decrepit Passat which really doesn’t give a flying about what you, I, or anyone thinks – nor, I’d like to believe, does its owner.
Times have been tough before – especially in this part of the world. We drove cars like this because we had to. We endured, we abided and we saw things through to better times. We shall do so again. I think about these things when I look at this Passat – an example which would have given Dr Piëch apoplexy – had he been around to witness it.
We’ll get through this – all of us. We just just have to endure.