Or moreover, just how good cars are these days, and as a result what bargains you can get in the classifieds.
The boys at Car Dealer have just completed a challenge to raise money for BEN, the motor industry benevolent fund, which is no doubt taking quite a hammering right now given all of the economic doom and gloom.
They drove from Portsmouth to John O’Groats in cars costing just two hundred quid, and the very fact that they made it to the finish proves that the £200 banger of today is a far better bet than that of yore.
Those of you of more advanced years will remember with glee the days of banger bodgery. The way that no British Leyland car would start unless you attached ‘the clothes peg of life’ to its choke lever to stop it being sucked back into the vacuum of the dashboard.
Then there was the clever way in which you could improve the gearshift of a Rover P6 by adding some washing-up liquid to the gearbox oil (it broke down the lumpy old oil that made the shift stodgy, in case you’re puzzling over the logic).
Or the way you could silence the moaning and grumbling rear axle of almost any Vauxhall Viva or Victor by filling the diff full of sawdust, often resulting in oil starvation and premature bearing wear, but doing wonders for refinement in the process.
I was reminiscing about this the other day with my mate Billy Two Bags, who I’m sure I’ve mentioned in this column before. Billy specialises in cars costing exactly £1,995 (two grand; two bags of sand…) and was wondering what on earth to do with a ’99 Mondeo that he’d just taken in part-ex against another ’99 Mondeo.
No, that’s not a typo – it was just an extremely unimaginative buyer who realised that chopping one car in for another almost identical one was preferable to paying for the first car to get through an MoT.
On the face of it, the part-ex car looked quite good. Shiny and black. The bumpers were more or less intact, an unusual sight on any Mondeo these days, it being one of the few cars where the committed bodger can still execute law-compliant repairs with gaffer tape.
There was also none of the rampant rear wheelarch corrosion often seen on facelifted Mondies, where Uncle Henry appears to have clawed back the investment cost of grafting on a new nose and tail by removing the underseal from non-structural areas. But the car did have a handful of problems.
First, being a Ghia X variant, it had an electric driver’s seat, and as the previous owner had been the car’s only driver for the past four years, it had stopped working and was stuck in one position.
Poor Billy, being what I understand is medically referred to as a short-arse, could only move it round his lot by perching on the edge of the seat and holding on to the steering wheel to keep himself perpendicular.
On top of that, there was a six-inch long crack in the windscreen, and being one of those heated jobbies that smug Ford owners switch on while their neighbours get jiggy with an ice scraper, it was asking for £300’s worth of replacement.
Throw in a glowing ABS light, most likely just a grubby sensor but you never know until you take the brakes apart, and to the non-mechanically minded you’re looking at a garage bill that could be nudging a grand – which is far less than the car books at and only just viable if you’re working to its retail value.
Being the kind of bloke who always pretends to have left his wallet at home when he sees someone he knows at the bar, Billy was never going to fork out to have the car re-commissioned, so instead shoved it to the back of his yard and advertised in the local paper – 1999 T Ford Mondeo 2.0 Ghia X, 1 months’ MoT and Tax, tidy body, needs a few small jobs, suit someone 6’2” or thereabouts, £200ono.
If you needed to get to John O’Groats in a hurry, it would have been just the job. It’s just a shame that editor Baggott didn’t tell me about the trip beforehand, as he’s just the right height for that driver’s seat…