A few years ago, I was at the filming of the old Top Gear. It was the one where Clarkson, Hammond and May each bought a ten grand supercar, then broke them.
As usual, Clarkson broke his car the most. It was a Maserati Merak SS, and the car (including the remains of the engine in a bucket) were left in the studio after the shoot had finished. I had a good look around the car, and despite Jeremy's criticism of it, I fell in love.
A few years later, my uncle rang me. He told me his next door neighbour had 'an old Italian car' that he wanted to sell, and asked if I was interested. I went and had a look: it was a 1982 Merak SS, one of the last and right-hand drive. It had been off the road for a few years, and I got it for what I thought was a bargain. What I hadn't counted on was the £13,500 it took to get it through its MOT: sills, engine-out, top-end rebuild, fuel pods, tyres. Ouch.
But once that car was on the road, it was worth all the cash. The V-6 had to be revved to get the best out of it but it sounded sublime, and the car was achingly beautiful- one of the only vehicles I have ever owned that drew me into the garage just to look at it.
But it was also a 1970s-designed supercar, so therefore completely bonkers. The dashboard was smothered by every lever, switch and gauge that was available at the time, all of which had to be operated in an exact order or the wiring loom exploded. The brakes, clutch and headlamp pods were all powered by Citroen hydraulics, and therefore each had two settings: off and on. Not too bad for the lamps and clutch, but an on-off brake tends to want to put you in the hedge too often for my liking. The there was the engine: the valve heads had a habit of falling off which, if you are not mechanically-minded, I can confirm is bad.
Despite all its foibles and money-sucking tendencies, I loved that car. For me, a highlight of ownership was leaving a Goodwood Breakfast Club meeting, where the car had attracted a huge amount of attention. As we pulled out of the motor circuit and up towards the Kennels, the roads lined with people taking pictures and my mate Simon Lord in the passenger seat, I couldn't help but drop the clutch, raise the revs and lose a bit of rubber off the back tyres. As we fish-tailed up the road, the roar of the engine almost drowned out Simon's cackle. "Nice. But look at that..." Up ahead, despite all our noise, a Ford Galaxy was happily leaving us standing.
So the poor old Merak may not be the fastest car on the road, but you feel every single mile per hour that you produce: it's a sensation you only get with modern cars if you're prepared to pay well over £100k. That's why I love performance classics: you get a finger-tingling, arse-clenching drive for a fraction of the cost of a modern sports car, plus they ooze old-school style. Plus, when I finally sold it, I got all my MOT money back, plus some. What's not to love.