09 February 2013

Richard Hammond on: fate

And why he bought a very rubbish VW Scirocco…

Richard Hammond
Car image

It wasn't a big crash. No ambulance was required and nobody had to turn up and ‘take control of the scene'. It was just an embarrassing shunt. But it came as a hell of a shock to me. This was 16 years ago and I was daydreaming, as usual, only this time I had some cause; my entire life was about to change and it demanded some mental turning over and looking at. After seven years of scratching a living as a radio presenter, I had thrown in the towel and got a job in the real world.

Well, nearly. I was driving down south from rainy Lancashire to become a press officer for a car company. This meant two things: I would need a suit and I could meet and schmooze the editors of TV car shows, and maybe one day hop back over the fence to the media and do the thing I'd dreamed of since watching TopGear as a kid.

It was a long shot, it almost certainly wouldn't work, my radio friends were disappointed in me and I didn't actually have a suit, but selling out was my best option if I wanted to do stuff like eat and live in something that wasn't a brown-painted bedsit.

And so, with these thoughts and others churning around the cramped confines of my little Brummie mind, it came as a mighty shock when my beloved, charcoal-black Scirocco GTX came to a very, very sudden stop. I'd hit the car in front of me at a roundabout. It was a bump and no more. There was apologising, writing down of details and a twinge as I surveyed the crunched front end.

It had taken me through many an adventure, my old Scirocco... well, almost. It had mostly broken down on the way, but I was proud of it and surveyed its deep, glossy paint beneath characterful layers of peeling lacquer with affection. It was the end of the road for this car in every sense.

With the new job came a company car. It was small and underpowered, but it was brand new and would always work. After this journey, the old VW could look forward to a brief moment of fame in a small box on the pages of Auto Trader before being placed in new hands for less than asked for, but more than it was worth.

The thing is, this could have been so different, or maybe not happened at all. My Scirocco was the third I had looked at. I wanted one because the drummer in our band had one and I figured that if he could fit his drumkit in something so much cooler than the usual Escorts and Golfs, I could sure as hell fit my bass rig in.

Having rejected the first Scirocco I went to see (ruined leather seats and a smell in the boot that would have aroused the interest of the police) I viewed a second. It was the smaller-engined GT version and it was immaculate. The owner had every scrap of history, it had covered barely a quarter of the miles a Scirocco can look forward to, the interior was perfect and the body glowed with health and vitality under its lustrous, flawless paint. But the paint under which it glowed was a vivid, in-yer-face orange. My rusty, silver-grey Opel Manta sat and dripped oil on the kerb behind me as I surveyed the Scirocco and tried to imagine how I would feel turning up to gigs or college in an orange car.

I couldn't do it. I turned it down and bought the next one I saw, the one I crashed on a roundabout in Surrey. I bought it because the colour, a mean and moody dark grey, looked great and it had the larger, 1.8-litre engine. I bought it despite the fact that it was clearly crap and only hours from death. It took constant nursing, it played on my mind, it kicked the crap out of my budget and let me down. But I loved it. And therein lies an interesting question.

Was my willingness to put up with the foibles of what I perceived to be the more glamorous car driven by something innate in me? Did I crave the chaos and glamour of a broken-down but good-looking car over the boring reliability of the other one? And if so, how might it have affected me if I'd gone for the orange one? Would the dependability of it, the ability to plan a journey and know I'd get there have influenced my young, developing mind? Might I have gone on to become a respectable, respected and responsible member of society, instead of a co-presenter of an ambitious but rubbish TV show?

The fact is, an orange Scirocco is probably rather a desirable, retro-cool thing now. Its groovy persona might have seeped into my artistic mind and turned me into a designer or architect. And this is why, love or hate cars (I'm assuming it's the former, given what you're reading), they are such an endlessly fascinating, controversial subject. We sometimes define ourselves by them and maybe sometimes they influence who we are. And there are probably not many objects we can say that about.

Tags: volkswagen, richard hammond, scirocco



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