My Life in Cars: Iwan Thomas
The former 400m star on his history of TVRs, motorbikes, Mitsubishi Evos and more
I was massively into cars as a kid, although I was into motorbikes first. I used to get on the back of my dad’s bike every weekend. He also had about five Alfa Romeos though, so he definitely loved his cars.
He let me drive really young in my Mum’s Golf on a beach in North Wales somewhere. I remember sitting on his lap and driving as a youngster. Cars and bikes were always going to be a part of my life.
I actually had my bike licence first. This annoys a lot of people but I applied for my driving test after only one lesson. I’d been on the roads for a year on my Yamaha TZR 125, so I had quite good knowledge of how to be on the roads. I think I ended up having three or four lessons and then passed first time, at which point I was an athlete, so I came off the bikes for a long time.
I had a good 15 years of no motorbikes and then my next one was a Yamaha R1, which was a bit of a beast. In between there were lots of cars though…
My first car was athletics-related because my career started so quickly. In the summer I did well at school sports day, and before I knew it, I was at the World Junior Championships. I didn’t have a club, I didn’t have an athletics coach and I’d never trained, so when I came back, I went to university in London and quite a few clubs were trying to poach me.
I remember Belgrave Harriers phoned me up and said they’d buy me a Ford Fiesta if I joined their athletics club. I couldn’t believe it. Although the chairman of Newham Beagles then asked what I’d been offered. I said it was a brand-new Fiesta, so he said: “Right, I’ll get you an Escort.”
So, my first car was a Ford Escort 1.6 GL. A year later I started to run a bit quicker again and I ended up getting a grant of around £3,000. My parents were asking whether I was going to spend it on warm-weather training.
I didn’t. I went out and I bought a Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9.
That was my pride and joy and I so wish I kept that car. My mate had a 1.6 and I thought I’ve got to get the 1.9. It was a very decent car for a student.
After that I had an association with a chain of hotels who also happened to own four Ford garages, so I had a couple of sponsor cars. I had a Ford Probe, which was pretty horrendous but at the time I thought it was really good. Then I had a couple of Escort Cabriolets.
Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter. Look out for your regular round-up of news, reviews and offers in your inbox.
Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.
At the 1996 Olympics we won a silver medal in the relay and I signed quite a good deal with a shoe company. I felt bad having a sponsor car when I didn’t need it, so I went out and bought a Lotus Elise. That was the start of the slippery slope in my life where I spent too much money on cars.
I kept that for a year or so and then I had a TVR Cerbera in British Racing Green. I can’t remember what year I bought that, but it was a 1997 car. It was brilliant and made me fall in love with TVRs, until my girlfriend’s stupid boss went and said: “He’s got a TVR? It bet it’s always breaking down.”
To that day nothing had gone wrong with it, but he absolutely cursed it.
I started to get a few little issues with the Cerbera, and I ended up going to a dealership in Malmesbury for them to have a look at it. While I was there, I ended up swapping it for a Subaru Impreza WRX STi that they had in. I’ve done that a few times actually. I went in with the Cerbera and came out with the Subaru.
The Subaru was an absolutely mega car. You could be a very average driver and throw it round everywhere. I then moved to Derbyshire and did the same spontaneous thing though. The Subaru needed some new brake pads and I went into a dealership to get them done. They had a Mitsubishi Evo VI Tommi Makinen Edition in at the time, and I had to have it. I part exchanged the Subaru for it there and then.
I went from that to a Jaguar XKR, but I went into training one day and everyone was saying the Jag was an old man’s car. I said: “No it’s the supercharged one. Listen to this.”
But they basically said I couldn’t have a Jag in my twenties. I stupidly got rid of that and lost a lot on it.
That’s when I went and got a TVR Tuscan – pearlescent blue with a cream leather interior – and had that for a couple of years. After that I had an association with a local Volkswagen dealership, so I had a couple more sponsor cars. I had a Golf TDI, but then I swapped into a diesel Passat and started wondering where my life had gone wrong. It was really nice to have a sponsor car and the local dealership looked after me, but I couldn’t drive that.
Then I had another car that I wish I’d kept – a second-hand Mini John Cooper Works. It was really nice; I think it had Hartge alloys and was really done up.
When I went to buy it, the guy was selling it on behalf of his dad. I get really nervous buying second-hand cars, so I asked why the price was so low. The guy started breaking down and said: “My dad died last week, and my sister and I just want to get rid of it.”
I feel really bad because I still tried to knock him down on the price as he was crying in his kitchen.
I then had a couple of BMWs. I’ve never really been the biggest fan, but I had two 325i Convertibles. Then I went back to Jags – I got the new-at-the-time XFR which I really liked, in fact I had two of those over the space of three or four years.
Then, when I turned 40, I bought myself an old-shape Audi R8. The driveshaft actually went on that car, but Audi were really good and it was under warranty. I remember being really nervous about getting another bill though, so once the warranty was up, I sold it for exactly what I paid for it.
The next car I bought was a Mercedes C63 AMG – I’ve actually still got that car. It’s got a widebody Black Series conversion on it – I think a footballer owned it before me and spent a lot of money on it. It’s a four-door but it’s got the wide wheelarches and the aggressive bonnet. I don’t think I’ll ever sell it. At the moment it’s my everyday 6.2-litre V8 run-around.
There’s been a few more cars in between though. This was a massive present to myself, but I bought a Lamborghini Huracan a couple of years ago. Dare I say it – second to my son being born – I think it was the happiest day of my life when I picked that car up. My dad went absolutely crazy, until I took him out in it.
I only kept that for just over a year. Once again, the warranty was going to be up and I remembered what had happened with the R8. Against all good judgement I bought a G-Wagen. It was a Brabus and was apparently previously owned by Steven Gerrard. It had massive wheels and was really nice inside. I had it for six months or so, but it just wasn’t comfortable.
After that I bought a car which I’d kept my eye on for a long time – a Bentley Continental GT that had been worked on by Onyx. It was heavily overpriced compared to a standard Bentley if I’m honest, but I was sad to see that go when I sold it. It was a 700bhp car.
I’ve got a sensible car for the family now – the new Range Rover Evoque. Although I’m really fortunate at the moment because McLaren New Forest has lent me cars to test drive. I had the GT for nearly a month and I’m really tempted by a McLaren.
I’ve got a project TVR Sagaris on the go too. Well, I don’t, but I’m involved with the guys at a company called Dub Customs who wrapped my Mercedes. Every time I went in there, they had this TVR just sat in pieces in the corner. I’d always ask what they were doing with it, and one day I went in there, gave them some money and told them to make a start on the car. Who knows, I might even make some money on it.
I’ll always be a petrolhead, I’ve not even told you about my motorbikes. I got a Harley-Davidson Crossbones years ago and I’ve spent more money than I’d like to say converting it. It’s been chopped into a bobber bike. I’ve had a couple of Yamaha R1s, I had a Ducati 1098 when they first came out and I’m just looking into buying a trials bike, because I think that would be quite an inexpensive hobby to have.
I’ll always be a bit of a thrill seeker. I’m not promoting speeding on the roads whatsoever, but I do track days because once I retired from athletics it was really hard to replace that buzz. I’ve had a couple of extravagant purchases, but they’ve all brought me smiles.
Iwan’s dream three-car garage
Lamborghini Aventador SVJ
Onyx Rolls-Royce Wraith
Iwan is a brand ambassador for Fareham-based company Exclusive Garages