An Ode to the Granny-Wagon
The first car's a landmark moment in a persons life. Mines that horrific little Korean bug, that I actually love it dearly. Bit embarrassing really...
The first car is a funny thing. If you haven’t bought the biggest steaming pile of s**t, you’ve not done it right. For most enthusiasts it’s the only car that’ll ever be chosen for them by someone else and they are inevitably crappy, cheap, old hatchbacks that nobody else wants. Your only fellow owners are poor souls like yourself, and uninterested O.A.P.s. The kind of vehicle that will bookend your motoring experience. They are the cannon fodder of the motoring world.
My four-wheeled little infantryman was no different. It was the archetypal Granny-Wagon, and so that was what we called it (or should I say call it, for at the age of 24 I STILL haven’t got my life together enough to actually move on). It is none other than a 2007 Kia Picanto Ice. It came complete with the asthmatic 1.1l 4-pot barely coughing out 64 bhp (I do not even want to consider how the smaller 1.0l 3 pot would be like), an outrageously lumpy gearbox, steering so soft and disconnected that it feels like the column is made of rubber, and it came standard with a drive so loud and rattle-y that you’d be excused for thinking it was powered via pneumatic drill. It’s slow, its ugly, it’s uncomfortable. I could just write a list of all the things wrong with it, but not only would you get bored, I would too. Besides, if you really wanted to hear how bad the car is there are plenty of other unfortunate hacks and reviewers who have shared their anguish in the form of full reviews.
So, my first car experience has been in line with the tradition for many of us. They’re crap and old. And being so, there comes the inevitable end game; something fails and it costs far more to repair it than the car is actually worth, so it goes to the little scrapyard in the sky. This thought crossed my mind the other day as I was turning the key to initiate the 8th failed attempt to get the thing started. But this realisation was swiftly followed by a sinking of the heart. The type you would normally feel after being told that actually, no you weren’t allowed that new Scalextric set previously promised to you (not that I’m bitter in any way) or when you are told by the vet that your dog might not make it. But how on earth could I find myself so attached to such an awful car?
A New Beginning
Maybe it is due to the point eluded to at the top of this piece. It’s a first car. It is a landmark moment in someone’s life. It represents a new level of independence, the opening of the oyster that is our world and the start of some new chapter in our life. We know they are diabolically bad cars, but often when people get asked about their first car they reply with a misty-eyed smile of nostalgic admiration on their face. It’s exactly like losing your virginity. You know it was painfully below par, and neither party really enjoyed the experience, but it’s still something to be remembered.
The Granny-Wagon has also been with me for a long time now. I have been driving it since I passed my test just after my 18th birthday,and before I started using it, it was my mum’s run-around. It’s been with me so long, in fact, it has almost become part of my identity. For many of my friends it is almost an extension of me. Every time I come back home I rock up to the pub, cricket ground, wherever it may be, in the bashed up baby blue behemoth, often completely deaf from the preposterous noise and most probably sweating profusely due to the dysfunctional A/C unit, the same comment always comes out; “you’re still driving that old girl around?!” It is a slight dent to my ego, as they’re standing in front of their Golf GTE’s, BMW 1 series’ and Fiesta STs, having got an actual job and put their hard-earned cash into something significantly more desirable. This sentence, however, comes with a tone of admiration to it. Every time. Partly from the utter disbelief that it is still running and in awe of its plucky determination, and partly due to the fact that they too associate it with so many good memories. The memories attached to it are far more important than the object itself. Perhaps then, my feelings are poorly directed, and the object itself is not important?
Character is a term that gets bandied around a lot when it comes to old cars. I like to akin the term to those sports commentators who often used to be less than complimentary whilst maintaining a level of polite professionalism required. Just as “This is an historic ground” often means “this is an outdated, crumbling, dirty shit-heap in the arsehole of nowhere”, character can sometimes be translated as “god-awful pile of junk”. The other half of the time, however, it is given as a genuine term of endearment, even when the vehicle is a god-awful pile of junk. Many of the Top Gear specials down the years ended with Clarkson, May or Hammond driving in their 20+ year old rust buckets they picked up for around 2 grand, through a panoramic shot of some stunning location, waxing lyrical about how their cars had won their hearts with their “character”. In a previous episode you’d have watched them rag around the Dunsfold Aerodrome in a quarter of a million pounds worth of fire breathing, 500+ brake Ferrari while picking holes in it, but their companions for the adventure have put a bigger smile on their faces. And what better example of this is Hammond’s darling little Oliver? He drove that poor Opel Kadett through Botswana, and loved it so much he bought it home, where it has remained to this day. After all the millions of pounds worth of cars, the plucky little Kadett had him in the hub of its rusty little casters. The faults, flaws, failures of a car make it feel so much more human and relatable and I think we can’t help but become attached to them.
The last thought I have on the reasoning behind the love I have of the Granny-Wagon, is that it is still a thing that can be enjoyed. The beauty of it is in the fact that it is so poorly designed and made. The steering is so lifeless the only thing you can do to get anything really out of it is chuck it into a bend with full gusto and find out what it’s going to do next. The skinny little tyres and cheap and cheerful suspension mean that the car is almost constantly fighting for any grip, which is awful for the safety of the car (it only achieved an N-Cap score of 3 back when it was released), but does mean you can very easily get it going from understeer to a happy little tail-wag with relative ease. It’s definitely not quick (even compared to the cars it released alongside in the day), but that’s not the point, and it can’t help but slap a grin on my face. Tiff Needell did a piece some years ago on Fifth Gear where he talked about his first car, the ever-undesirable Morris 1000, and how it’s drum brakes and awful handling made him learn about how to handle a car properly. Although my Kia is more modern, does have some safety features, and disk brakes, it is still not a performance machine by any stretch and I’ve had to learn how to handle it properly, especially in less than favourable conditions. There have been hairy moments, but I have also managed to have fun driving it and I have certainly learnt a lot about how to handle a car because of it.
Without a doubt the Granny-Wagon is not a good car, but that is entirely beside the point. Would I ever think about buying another one? God no. Would I ever recommend one? Certainly not. Will I get a lump in my throat and a tear to the eye when it finally bites the dust? Almost certainly.