Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

Tooling around

The scars have pretty much healed from my last bout of self-flagellation on these pages, when I gave myself a proper beating for being the type of nerdy brand devotee who throws a wobbly if the car manufacturer dares change so much as the bonnet catch on whatever model is the subject of their adoration. So it’s time for some more self-inflicted pain. And this month, I’m going to beat myself up for being part of a group of people that is just, well, plain weird.

I’ve just moved house. Nothing unusual in that, and the move itself was a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill house-move: utter misery, everything lost, broken or won’t fit/wrong colour/too old/too new/not ours. Having shunted our pile of Ikea tat around the place for a day or two and grown shit-bored of trying to join in with the business of arranging things in kitchen cupboards and the kids’ bedrooms, I got down to the more exciting – and, frankly, more important – business, of moving my cars to the new place. If that sounds rather grand, then please don’t let it conjure up visions of a fleet of transporters bearing delicate supercars and priceless Pebble Beach regulars. Yes, there are some posh ones: a Ferrari 550, a rather minty Mustang 390GT and a Porsche. But then the list quickly deteriorates into the leftovers from a low-rent, back-street car auction.

There’s a little romance, perhaps, to the brace of 50-year-old Land Rovers, the Spitfire is charming in a rather British, hopeless sort of a way and then Oliver, of course – the 1963 Opel Kadett I drove across Botswana on Top Gear before shipping him home – brings with him a certain charm. But there really is absolutely not a scrap of charm to be found lurking in the rusty Vauxhall Firenza I bought to restore, but forgot to finish and the Volvo estate I picked up because I was fascinated to discover it had covered only 30,000 miles in its 15 years, only to find the first owner had not kept the miles down because he wanted to preserve it, but because it was awful to drive.

Those and, to be honest, most of the rest of my ‘collection’, are a bit shit. But they are mine and very precious to me, and the business of homing all my little pigeons, tucking them in corners, under covers and in barns occupied an entire weekend.

“The business of homing my little pigeons, tucking them in corners, under covers and in barns, occupied an entire weekend”

Having finished, I strode about the place manfully, oily rag in hand, and dreamed of what the future might hold for me, and my four-wheeled charges. But I didn’t dream of crisp drives along autumn lanes or of racing between golden hedgerows on dewy mornings. Nope, my dreams were different. As I walked back towards the house, with my heart sinking a little at the prospect of another evening unpacking house-moving boxes, that same heart did a little shimmy and a leap as I spotted a dark shadow under the front of my Series I Land Rover, Gertie. I leaned closer and dabbed a finger into the flat stain on the concrete floor. I sniffed it. It was oil.

I felt the same lurch in my chest as a proud parent feels watching their child stumble and stammer through their lines at their first school play. Gertie’s first oil leak in her new home. I leaned against a wooden post and looked across the shed to the workbench lurking atthe back. In the gloom, toolboxes squatted squarely on the bench, a plastic crate holding angle grinder, power drill and welding mask stood to one side. I breathed in the oily air and knew that soon, any day now, one of my cars would develop a problem, and I would be able to scamper into this cool, dark place and spend hours tinkering with it in search of the problem and a cure.

One of my cars would need an oil change, a driveshaft, a condenser; my hands quivered as I ran through the list of faults I knew could and would soon arrive. And there you have it: my dreams, my desires, my hopes and those of all other people like me – and, yes, there are many – are all plain bloody weird. I dreamed, and dream still, of my cars going wrong, and I nearly threw a party in honour of Gertie’s first oil leak.

We’re a larger group than you might think, us fault-lovers. Sheds and garages across the nation are haunted by similar individuals, with a haunted yet dreamy look in their eyes as they approach their decrepit but impossibly precious hulk hoping the faint falter on the way home from work will turn out to be a big, juicy problem with the main bearings or the distributor shaft and let them unleash the spanners like the dogs of war into a frenzied night of metal, oil and wrenching.

Right, I’m off back into the shed to see if that oil leak can be traced back to something dirty and thrilling. 

 

Richard Hammond, Column, Ferrari, Mustang, Land Rover

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