I’m going to be turning the clock back a bit here, but given my background in the gutter end of the motor trade, it probably won’t be the first time that I’ve turned back a clock. I couldn’t possibly comment.
Today, though, I’d like to take you back to the mid-1990s, when I hung up my main dealer gloves, having left my role as sales manager of a Fiat dealership under a bit of a cloud, which may or may not have had something to do with me ‘accidentally’ ordering nine beige Fiat Cromas.
Needless to say, the group franchise director really wasn’t very happy about it, but he’d had it coming. It was an incident some of you may remember me recounting in issue 164 of this fine magazine. Anyway, I digress…
The mid-Nineties saw the start of me having my own place and stepping away from shiny new metal to once again enjoy the delights of peddling the more tired and careworn examples of pre-loved motor cars.
It was always quite nice, then, when I got something in stock that was just a little bit special.
And on this particular occasion, ‘Special’ was even written on the car, preceded by the words ‘Ford Capri 2.8 Injection’.
To those of a certain age, the words ‘Capri Injection Special’ carry a huge amount of weight.
To be seen behind the wheel of Ford’s finest Cortina coupé, astern of its landing craft-like bonnet and with those unmistakable pepper-pot alloy wheels, made you a lad about town like no other.
And the whole ‘lad about town’ image was why I was more than a little surprised when an interested customer who didn’t fit the most obvious demographic for such a car wandered on to the lot.
Wearing a purple duffel coat and with permed hair to match, the old dear had a wardrobe that would have given the Queen Mother a run for her money.
I’d witnessed her walk down from the bus stop, somewhat doddery, and my first assumption when she got to the forecourt was that perhaps she needed the loo, or maybe just a five-minute sit-down.
‘Can I help you, love?’ I asked.
‘Oh yes, dear,’ she replied. ‘I’d like to take that car out for a test drive please.’
She then waggled her walking stick in the direction of the Capri.
Parked directly behind it was a Mini Clubman automatic, so making the first of many wrong assumptions, I disappeared into the caravan and emerged with the Leyland keys.
‘No, not that one, you daft lump,’ she said, gesticulating with her stick at the vast bonnet of the Capri. ‘This one. Do I look like the kind of old bat who’d drive around in a Mini?’
Avoiding the urge to state the obvious, I mumbled apologetically under my breath and wandered into the caravan for the Ford keys.
‘You do realise this is a performance car, don’t you?’ I asked her. After all, she did have the air of somebody who probably wasn’t fully aware of the fact that it was Tuesday.
‘I know my cars, young man,’ she said sternly and clambered into the driver’s seat, much to my alarm.
I got the trade plates off the side and climbed in next to her, by which point she’d already fired up the fuel-injected V6 and was grinning with delight as the rev counter bounced around like a jumping bean.
‘Oh, it’s very comfy, isn’t it?’ she said, as she slipped the Capri into first and edged towards the kerb.
Hawkishly, she looked both ways, dumped the clutch and lit up the rear tyres as she tore out into a gap that was barely there, showering gravel from my forecourt all over the front of the Number 319 bus.
‘Be careful, my love,’ I said in the least patronising way that I possibly could.
‘Don’t be so patronising,’ she replied as she dropped from third to second and gunned it down a bus lane to get around a learner driver.
At this stage, I was genuinely concerned.
I was wondering if maybe she’d escaped from a home for the bewildered, or had a concerned relative round the house at this very minute who had assumed she was just out in the garden pruning her roses.
My thought process didn’t last long, though, because I was immediately brought back to the present moment by the rapidly advancing island (or roundabout, as I believe you non-Midlanders prefer to call them) that was just yards ahead of this blue Ford Capri that didn’t appear to be slowing down.
‘Madam,’ I said as calmly as possible. ‘The, the i…i….i,’ – and that was that. I lost the ability to speak.
Instead, I was waving my arms and legs around in the passenger seat like a demented squid, my body racked with sheer terror at the fear of imminently meeting my maker in the middle of a council-sponsored floral arrangement, having been flung there upside down by Barbara Cartland’s slimmer and considerably more psychotic evil twin.
We entered the island without even a dab of the brakes and her ladyship flung the car into the turn before thrusting the accelerator pedal even closer to the floor, drifting round the roundabout in a perfect arc of smoking rubber.
‘Oh, I think I’ll go again!’ she giggled, as she unwound the opposite lock and threw the Capri back into the roundabout for another trip round the clock, before deftly flicking the wheel the other way and cruising calmly down the hill back to my lot.
We made it to my sales site just in time for me to leap out of the passenger door and regain my composure by discreetly vomiting into the boot of a Triumph Acclaim.
I wandered back to the Capri to find Her Majesty with the boot open, counting out three grand in cash on to the rear parcel shelf, with a grin like a Cheshire cat.
I quickly ran into the caravan to grab the registration document so she could complete it before her pills kicked in.
‘Well, I haven’t had that much fun since our Alf made me get rid of the E-Type,’ she chuckled.
‘Anyway, he’s dead now, and he didn’t leave me enough money for an XJ-S.’
And that, dear reader, is just one of the many times in my career that I’ve learnt never to judge a book by its cover.
This column appears in issue 168 of Car Dealer, along with news, views, features, reviews and much more! To read and download it for free, click here.
Main image is used for illustrative purposes only. Any resemblance to elderly demon drivers mentioned in this column is purely coincidental.