Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

It Must’ be love

This article was first published in April 2009.

A moment can be a big thing. It probably took a guy called al-Jazari just ‘a moment' in 1206 to cook up a nifty idea for turning the round-and-round motion of a water wheel into the reciprocal, back-and-forth movement of a piston in a chamber. But in doing so, he invented a concept that lies at the heart of every car engine, bicycle, motorcycle and steam train in history. I had a similarly huge moment in my Mustang this week, albeit not of quite such importance to the world at large. But it was a whopper for the car and me.

The Mustang and I have, over the years, enjoyed a relationship as laid-back and easy-going as the driving style required to keep it on the tarmac. I have abandoned it in workshops and car parks for months on end, only to arrive one day, keys in hand, to ask some task or other of it that would be of little consequence to a modern car with its ECUs etc., but is to a 40-year-old American car positively Herculean in its scope and ambition.

Nevertheless, the Stang has always stirred from dusty slumber to wake with a gentle cough and do whatever I've asked. There has been neither complaint nor hesitancy, and it has never, ever let me down. This week, I had assumed, would be the same. In an unheard-of piece of good fortune and convenience, I was working with a TV crew just 20 miles from home. The weather was fine, the roads clear and this was, I reckoned anyway, the perfect opportunity to dust off the Mustang and actually use it for work. It started, of course.

“The Mustang started, of course. And then made it to the end of the road. And to the end of the next road. We had a moment then, but not THE moment…”

And then made it to the end of the road. And to the end of the next road. We had a slight moment, pulling out onto a main road; I was a bit liberal with the right foot, and the tail end made a break for it. It was a moment, but not the moment.

The limited-slip diff helped the tyres find traction on the greasy tarmac and bring everything under calm control with a flamboyant but containable little flourish. And then, pulling up to a roundabout seconds later, we had the moment. The Stang stuttered. It wasn't a massive lurch - there was no smoke, no drama. But as I dipped the clutch and braked at the junction, the big 7.0-litre V8 slowed and stalled. It was going to die; I was convinced of it. I decided that my job must come before messing about in my ridiculous old car, so I turned round to make a dash for home in the limping Mustang and swap it for my modern, fully functioning, reliable Porsche. We got back, and I shut the engine down. And I sat for a moment.

The early morning sunlight slanted across the little Stang's dash, catching on the gaudy, chromed instruments and the steely Hurst gearlever. In the silence, punctuated only by the soft ticks and clicks of the cooling exhaust, I knew that we were at another crossroads, only this one was more significant. If I climbed out now and abandoned the Mustang for another, modern car, there would be no turning back. We would never return to where we once were. Trust would be gone forever. But I climbed out all the same, closed the door and walked to the garage to collect the 911.

Working next to the garage was David, a builder employed - I suspect forever - to rebuild our broken house. He'd parked his wheelbarrow when the Mustang burbled up the drive, and was now admiring the car as it cooled by the wall.  He didn't really say anything, but the intensity of his gaze as his eyes raked the Mustang's flanks was enough. I turned and walked back. This was too important. I climbed in and set off once more. If the car was going to fail, we would fail together.

But I would allow no room in my heart for the concept of failure from now on - we would set off together in absolute confidence that we would get where we were going. And we did. Not surprisingly, the crew looked up when we arrived and chorused the usual rousing approval of the car's pretty looks and mighty exhaust note.

I was late, and I needed an excuse. I looked at the director, his raised eyebrows demanding an explanation. I considered explaining how I had decided that preserving my precious relationship with the car - by demonstrating to it my faith in its ability to transport me to work - was more important than getting to work on time. Instead, I told him that I had decided halfway there that I was wearing the wrong shirt and had gone back to change it. He believed me; well, he would - I'm a telly presenter. And we got on with the job while the Mustang sat in a corner and waited to take me home that evening with not a flicker of trouble. We've weathered the storm. 

 

Richard Hammond, Column, Ford Mustang

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