Picture the scene. It was 1995 and you'd just turned 17, you didn't need to do a theory test, you just sent off for your provisional licence and booked a lesson. You'd gleefully rushed outside to sit aside some mustached ancient mariner, who looked like a Howard or a a Gerald, in his dual-control Fiesta Mk3 Diesel.
All your mates had passed ages ago. They'd been taking the piss out of you for months. This was it, this was your time to shine. You listened to Gerald, perched nervously in the passenger seat and proceeded to kangaroo down the road, eventually stalling it. After 3 months of awkwardly meandering through traffic, amidst a chorus of peeping horns, stalling at junctions and nearly causing accidents, something clicked - you could drive. Probably still quite badly, but you could muddle through enough to pass your test. You could parallel park without clipping the curb and pull away from a junction without making the car conk out.
You passed your test, then the harsh reality of being a new driver suddenly became apparent. The only way you can get insured on dad's Cavalier SRi as a named driver was if your parents agreed to remortgage the house - and that only covered you for one year. So you ended up as a named driver on your mum's 1.0 Fiesta. This beast had an eye-popping... 45 BHP and 4 gears. 0-60 wasn't a question of when, it was a question of IF! Downhilll with a good following wind and you might have been in luck. Uphill with five beer-swilling chavs in the car and I wouldn't have fancied your chances. Really, you needed your own car. You had your eye on a something like an XR2i...
Now these went fast. They went REALLY fast! 0 - stolen in, 'Hang on I'm sure I parked here?' Security was woeful and all the expensive bits off your XR2i fitted right onto all the knackered old, cheap Fiesta 1.0's that littered the local council estate. As a result of this, insurance was high. So high that you probably had to sell your organs on the black market to afford it. A kidney and a lung might get you through your first year. If you made it to your second year with your no claims intact, you could probably get your second year for your spleen and half your liver.
Of course the inevitable happened, your job didn't pay the insurance and your dad didn't seem keen on piling up £50 notes and setting fire to them. You ended up with something cheaper. Mum had owned her Fiesta for a few years and fancied a change so guess what? You got the hand-me-down car. if you'd had an older sister she would have had it for two or three years before you. You wanted that ^, you got this:-
You probably even got it in that vile burgundy colour that old people seem to prefer. It could have been worse, a couple of decades earlier you would have been in a brown, Vauxhall Chevette with a hole in the passenger foot well, fag burns in the upholstery and a blowing exhaust...
Thankfully all was not lost. It was the 1990's! It was the pinnacle of the modding revolution. Modding had never been cheaper, easier or more popular. Your chariot may have had the iron block from a Ford Anglia powering it, but you could dress it up so people thought it has a two litre turbo! You didn't declare the spoiler or alloys of course. This was before insurance companies went all 'spoil sport' and the general consensus was if it doesn't make it faster, it probably doesn't need declaring.
You set out with your tub of filler, slowly emptying your bank account, your goal - to turn that burgundy monstrosity into something like this:-
Nobody would know you were harboring a wheezy little 1.0 carburetor engine from the 1940's under that bonnet! At least as long as you didn't race anyone. You'd have earned street cred, you'd have pulled! You'd have been the envy of your baseball hat and tracksuit wearing wearing mates. Unfortunately you run out of enthusiasm and money. Things don't go quite to plan. You'd never factored in the cost of painting it... Instead of driving around in that ^, you ended up driving around in this:-
For some reason the street cred you'd envisaged never materialized. Things started to break down on your knackered old Fiesta. It began to rot. It became a question of 'how much welding' at MOT time, rather than 'Does it need any welding?'
It broke, it wasn't worth mending, off it went to be crushed while you scraped together all your pennies to buy and insure another fairly crap, early nineties rot box. Cars weren't really designed to last that long around the 90's. Not without problems. a 5 year old car, seemed like an old car. A 10 year old car seemed like a classic!
Fast forward 30 years and things have changed. Some things haven't changed much. Insurance is still extortionate. Modified cars are still popular - though not as much I think and the demographic seems to have changed. Insurance companies have cracked down on cosmetic mods and insuring your first car in mum's name.
What has changed is your first car options. After the PCP revolution, you don't need to sit trawling the newspaper classifieds looking for an ancient insurance group 0. No longer do you expect your 6 or 7 year old car to start falling apart! These days you can lower your insurance costs by having a black box fitted. Yes, it means you can't have as much fun driving, but maybe you should save your 'fun driving' for once you've built up a few years experience of sensible driving? You could always hire a track car and do a track day, maybe even get some instruction?
If you do want to buy a car, you can get a perfectly serviceable 6 or 7 year old car for a song. They're almost giving them away! It won't rot, it'll probably more or less keep working for two or three years. If you have a job and some spare money you can even jump on the PCP treadmill.
Okay, it's not going to set your pulse racing. Even if you ARE seventeen. The motor on your mum's washing machine probably produces more horsepower, it's about going to be about as fast as the farmer up the road's tractor. However it's comfortable, it works, it allows you get around and enjoy the experience of driving - of operating the controls of a car. You won't need to be stuffing the doors with newspaper and filler every summer and you won't be dreading the infamous mechanic's backwards whistle - where the pitch, tone and length of the whistle indicate just how eye-wateringly expensive the bill is going to be... At least not for a few years. You throw your £99 a month in and forget about it. In two or three years, Simon from Vauxhall rings you up and offers you a new PCP, no deposit required. Same payments, newer car with a higher spec. You might go for it - you might shop around. Whatever; you're driving something reliable without ever having fork out a five figure sum.
Okay, I can appreciate the fears about the driverless car revolution. I wrote a lengthy article about it here: -
Yes, your 1990's 'First Car Experience' might have been better than mine. (I'll be honest - it can't have been much worse! )
But all in all, I think this is a golden time to be setting out as a new driver. The roads are safe (If congested) cars are cheap and reliable and the distant tragedy of driverless cars is still over the horizon.
If you are 17, put your iPhone down, forget Snap Chat and Facebook and go and book some lessons! I promise you won't regret it!