The CarScoop Diaries: Settling Down is Hard to Do


In the 2010 film The American, there is a scene where a catholic priest tells George Clooney “Journalism can’t make you rich”, hinting that he knows the latter is not the photographer he claims to be but something much more sinister.

Truer words have rarely been spoken, especially when it comes to the specialized sector that is motoring journalism. It won’t make you rich* but, on the other hand, you’ve turned your hobby into a job and that job does come with certain perks.

First and foremost, you get to drive nearly every new car and that includes some of the best. You also visit some amazing places, meet very interesting people and gain an insight about the inner workings of the automotive industry.

Yours truly enjoyed it until it became apparent that the job was quickly turning into a hobby that I couldn’t indulge in any more due to practical reasons, aka pay cuts due to falling sales and advertising income.

This brought me to a position I hadn’t been in since the previous century: I was out in the market for a car.

I had sold my cherished Alfa Romeo 156 to a cousin/dear friend a few years back because I couldn’t stand watching it sitting in the garage as I had no time to take it out and my better half didn’t have a driving license.

Having driven a different car practically each day for more than a decade, I now had to get used to living with the same vehicle day in, day out. Think of it as the automotive equivalent of settling down with one woman after countless one-night stands: she’ll have to be real good for you not to be truly satisfied.

Even if money was no object, I’d really have a hard time deciding. As it happened, money was definitely an object and, in the meanwhile, the aforementioned better half had learned how to drive so her needs became a factor.

In the end, I settled for a Kia Venga small MPV. The price was a steal, the car was extremely roomy, practical and loaded to the gills with extras (six airbags, ESP, part leather seats, folding mirrors, the lot) and, with just 3,400 km (a bit over 2,100 miles) on the odometer it was as good as new.

Its 1.6-liter four-cylinder was sprightly and yet frugal, the ride was compliant save for sharp undulations that jolted the rear torsion beam suspension, the visibility perfect.

After more than a year living with it, I’d rate the Venga an A+ as an utterly relaxing and reliable little car to spend a trouble-free life with.

I’d also give it a D in the fun factor department. Not its fault, really, as it did exactly what it was designed for. The problem was that it did none of the things I wanted.

My list of “must-haves” includes a steering with real feedback, sporty handling, the ability to put the electronics to sleep if I wished and, preferably, rear-wheel drive.

Being on a tight budget that was getting smaller, as expenditures always rise to meet income, meant I wasn’t exactly spoilt for choice. BMWs within reach came with a gazillion miles on the odometer and/or a patchy history - the rest were just very old or absurdly overpriced. A Mini would be fun but the Cooper is underpowered and a Cooper S in decent condition too steep for my pocket. The list was long and the search yielded no results.

Apparently, I had great expectations. Needless to say, I was depressed.

Help came by a former colleague. He happened to have a friend who was selling exactly the kind of car I was looking for. It was compact, low, rear-wheel drive, with a short-throw six-speed manual transmission and a mechanical limited-slip differential.

There was no service book but said colleague vouched for the car being serviced meticulously and some scratches and dings didn’t put me off as the cream leather interior with the Nardi wooden-rimmed wheel and gear lever was in tip-top condition.

It was a Mazda MX-5 with nearly 160,000 km (100,000 miles) and a 1.8-liter engine. Even though its 140PS output wasn’t ripping the tarmac apart, the low weight made up for it, it had adequate low-end torque and oversteer was easy to induce and control. It was well within my allocated budget and, having a family car, being a two-seater wasn't a problem.

Mission accomplished - or so I thought, but you'll have to wait for the next session to find out what happened…

*PS: I am fully aware of Harry Metcalfe (who, as far as I know, didn’t make his money out of Evo) and Chris Harris (who I have absolutely no clue about; maybe he was born into money, maybe he won the lottery – it’s not my business, either way). The only ones I can think off are the three Top Gear TV show hosts; every rule has an exception. BTW, well done, old chaps, and nice to have you back for the 19th season.

By Andrew Tsaousis




500normal said... »February 04, 2013

interesting story, i really never thought about the auto industry being affected by pay cut... a bit naive i guess... miatas are pretty much the best you can get, nice cars, i wish i owned one too

ben nibohs said... »February 04, 2013

amazing story, i love it, keep em coming

jh said... »February 05, 2013

very sad, one has to settle for a miata, if he's not making big bucks. once again. that's how the worlds works and the precious things in life (talking about the materalistic part) are only for the wealthy. do what you love and actually live up to you ethics ... you'll be in the 'lower third' of society. rip others off and only act upon you own benefit... you'll be drinving a ferrari - sell your soul and the pagani is yours... ;)

Andreas Tsaousis said... »February 05, 2013

You got that "not making big bucks" part nailed but, really, it's all a matter of perspective: one man's ceiling is another man's floor, so I'm not complaining at all. I can think of much worse things than "settling" with a Miata, which is quite fun actually.
Or should I say "was" - but you'll forgive me for not giving away any more spoilers as it would ruin the follow-up to the story that's due in a few day's time...

jh said... »February 06, 2013

it might sounded a little offensive - but don't get me wrong. it is not about a miata being a bad thing. i (test)drove the same model you own(ed?) and it was quiet fun - i agree. my problem is that there are pretty much no other cars out there anymore, in this price range, that have a character - as you already said - mostly down to the missing rear wheel drive and sportiness. all the cars produces today (except bmw s - which are quiet expensive and do come with a certain image [at least in germany and most parts of europe] - and the real nice cars beyond the average citizen's paycheck) are just to go from a to b. and they have to be cheap and have to have all kinds of heavy and expensive extras one doesn't really need.

example given: the car i used to drive for the last decade was a citroen saxo 1.6i 16v vts (the 120bhp version), and despite the front wheel drive (i begged god to install a 4wd over night ;)) it was an amazing little fella! very reliable, relativly low fuel consumption, but always on the run. faster than most modern cars (even on the autobahn) and pretty much unbeatable on a twisty b-road. i really loved this car. and it had no extras. even the radio was broken, so the only electrics in the entire car were the lights, the wipers and the windows (and i could have lived without them as well). my point is, when the rear axle bearing broke a few month ago, it was a matter of whether or not it made sense to repair it (the parts aren't expensive, but the working time is... and sadly i neither have the tools, nor the workshop to do it myself). the decision had to be made, since the car was build in '98 and already had 200k km on the odometer. now i drive a '97 ford escort (i know.... i would have never thought the day would come that i buy a ford - well my finances are even worst than yours ;)) but if i could have had my saxo back (all fresh and ready to go), i wouldn't trade it for any modern car, except the real sports cars of course. because it was just an honest, down to earth and totally understated car, which you really can use for pretty much everything and it surprised most people and myself, everyday. i always had a smile on my face drinving it.... i imagine that you have the same emotional bond with you miata - so sorry, for the earlier comment.

but cars like that are rare today. because every car that gets build today is packed with 'useless' junk to give the driver some kind of status or comfort... and that is a great disappointment for me as a car enthusiast. - less is more!

jh said... »February 06, 2013

was my reply to long or did it just ruin your follow-up? because it seems like it just vanished...

Andreas Tsaousis said... »February 06, 2013

Always nice to meet a fellow car enthusiast on CarScoop.

My best friend owned a 120PS Saxo VTS for 160k km until his wife misjudged a corner, entered too fast, lifted off and... let's just say the car was totaled but thankfully (and miraculously) she was unhurt.

Now in the VW Golf GTI, for example, you can't even deactivate the ESP - it's always on, no matter the warning light on the dashboard.

Manufacturers play it safe - plus it costs them much more to design and produce a decent suspension than just install a non-switchable ESP that will mask any chassis shortcomings.

Besides, most drivers (even BMW-owning ones) rarely, if ever, push the damn button anyway - it's a status symbol they seek, not thrills. Why, they even spend hundreds of thousands on Ferraris and do 2-3k miles a year... I bet you'd drive them every single day If you had the chance, wouldn't you?

Alas, the only way for normal (i.e. not rich) people to get a smile on their face, as you so accurately put it, is buying used. That's what I've done (and the finances are not so great, really...) - but you'll read more about it soon enough.

jh said... »February 07, 2013

yes, you got me. i would drive it every day :)

Post a Comment