I wanted a Mk1 Ford Cortina – a two-door, naturally – but when I was in the market for one, they were either too much money or too rusty.
The story was similar for 1960s and ’70s Alfas Romeos, only they were either exceedingly expensive or exceptionally rusty. I thought about a Lancia Fulvia too, very pretty but too front-wheel drive. And anything Japanese from that era only ever appeared in fables and myths, not in any actual classifieds.
I had just three criteria for my car at the time: it had to be old, it had to be rear-wheel drive, and it had to be something I could equip with twin side-draught carbs. There was only one car that ticked all the boxes that I could afford, a BMW ’02.
The right one, a solid-looking, very original 1975 1602 popped up on eBay so I bid on it. I didn’t do anything as sensible as going to look at it; I just waded into the auction with all the money I had (not a lot) and amazingly I won.
And that’s where it began. Unlike most of my stories about buying cars, this one has a happy ending. A truly sickeningly happy ending, one even Hollywood might find too schmaltzy.
The BMW might have started out low down on my own rankings, but it with every mile I covered, every corner I turned and every bolt loosened then tightened, it worked its way up the scale to become a car that I adored. Yes, my own car has now been transformed significantly since I first bought it.
I overhauled and upgraded just about every part of it, then I re-shelled it and took the opportunity to upgrade everything just a little bit more. Then I took it all apart, once again, to upgrade it further.
But it’s not just the modifications I’ve done to it that have made me fall for its charms. I love how well engineered it is, how thoughtfully it has been designed so that working on it is a joy. I love how it looks; its big airy glasshouse and dainty pillars are a wonderful contrast to its aggressive shark-like nose. But most of all, I love how it drives. It’s old enough to have the character and abundance of feel typical of a classic car, but it’s sophisticated enough not to feel antiquated or delicate. I’m well and truly smitten with it, that’s for sure.
The market has changed a little, and I could probably swap my 02 for that beloved Cortina if I wanted to. But now, I am not even tempted. Not for a second. The BMW ’02 is superior to a Mk1 Ford Cortina. But I suppose I would say that, I do own one.
So, you’d be forgiven for not trusting me. And that might be wise as there’s a very good possibility that I am so deep into my own justification for buying the wrong car that I can no longer view this situation rationally. I could be so delusional that I’ve started believing my own lies to console myself for, slowly but surely, spending obscene amounts of money on a car that, quite possibly, I don’t like all that much. Let’s not poke at that hornet’s nest, though, there could be years of therapy ahead for me if that illusion comes falling down.
With that being a strong possibility, you might expect me to say that you should give up on buying your dream car. But even I don’t believe that. You’ve got to go for your dream. Yes, there’s a risk. The car you put on a pedestal, the one you’ve spent years wistfully staring at on dealer forecourts, the one you scrimped and saved every penny to buy may never live up to your lofty expectations. But there’s also the chance it could be everything you ever wanted.
The truth is, you can’t go wrong. If you go big initially, splurge your savings on your dream car – whether that’s eleventy-billion on a Ferrari F40 or £3,000 on an old Toyota – and it turns out it was all a mistake, and you don’t like it all that much, just sell it and move on. The same goes for the simple, convenient, cheaper option. If that little critter fails to worm its way into your affections, get rid. Better luck next time. Plenty more fish in the sea. Keep going until you find a car you do love.
Or, of course, there’s the final option where you create your own little world in which you tell yourself your car is the greatest, no matter which one you bought, and pray no one comes along and cruelly bursts your bubble.
Photography by Rob Cooper