In the final episode of a the most recent series of Top Gear Chris Harris, a man whom I admire for his whit, driving ability and the fact he makes people bearing the Chris or Christopher moniker cooler, was doing a quick review of a series of cars from different segments. He got to the estate section, which featured a Vauxhall Insignia and said something which suggested that if you bought a Vauxhall it showed that you had given up on life.
This is not entirely wrong because, with the abandonment of the VXR performance department, Vauxhalls have become like skimmed milk, you’ll have it but only if you really have to. I think however, there has been an exception to this Vauxhall motif. Its me.
I currently drive a grey 2016 Vauxhall Astra Techline 1.4 Turbo with an inline 4 cylinder engine pumping out around 125bhp.
On the surface of it this sounds like a typical everyday Vauxhall. Its not that fast, its practical enough but inherently flavourless.
The wheels are also too narrow for the width of the car which means on bumpy roads and corners it flicks and jumps. It doesn’t ride the crowns of said bumpy road that well and in slippery conditions it wheel spins very easily. Add to this the fact that if I leave it parked in hot weather, the radio will break, retune to a different radio station. Not that this will be displayed on a central screen that will have lost all its graphics until the next day when the system will have cooled down.
A bit of an odd choice then for a 21 year old in 2017. This Vauxhall though, is different, not because of the car, but because of when it came into my life.
You see on a wet July 26th 2017 myself and my Mum, who I can never truly repay for the support since, were looking at the Corsa. My beloved 2012 1.2 Clio was broken and it was time, my family thought for it to go and for me to have a car that hadn’t been through a river.
I had driven a silver 1.4 Corsa and thought it was good if a bit uncomfortable. Upon arriving at the dealership earlier that day I had parked in a Wix car park opposite the Vauxhall dealer. Just as I was about to get in to go home I realised I didn’t have the licence plate of the Corsa to put through the insurance quote website check the insurance. So I jogged across the road and up onto the dealership forecourt.
At least that’s what I’d intended…
It was raining that day and there was a Wicks Lorry coming out of the Vauxhall dealer which had the intention of crossing the road into the Wicks car park to unload its cargo. As I jogged up into the forecourt, giving the lorry a wide berth, I slipped on the road and landed on my hip in what I thought was just a classic school-boy playground slip. It wasn’t.
As I was registering the minor pain, just a slow fall that’s all, I saw the lorry wheel roll onto my right ankle, crush it into the pavement and sit there for 10 seconds until the lorry driver reversed back off it. Imagine that, an entire lorry on your right foot.*1
My friends have heard this story too many times so, to cut a long two year story short: screaming, shock, NHS, Police, 9 months of physiotherapy, 12 months of psychological recovery…and a car.
You see the one thing I remember most vividly, apart from pain and the speediness with which the rest of my family came to the hospital, was the actions of the guys working at the dealership. It was pouring with rain but without hesitation they took off their coats and jumpers and did everything they could to stop me going into shock and making sure I didn’t get a parking fine for my Clio. When I could drive and walk again we knew then , despite their, rep, that it had to be a Vauxhall.
But not a Corsa, we ended up part exchanging my battered Clio and my sister’s Fiat 500 for an Astra that ended up being cheaper than my Clio had been in 2014.
But that’s not the end of the Astra Odyssey. Over the next few months as I regained the ability to walk ,the Astra, with its light steering, long legged manual gearbox, narrow tyres and unstressed engine became a place of mental and physical recovery. Even now, two years, 2 BUKC seasons and thousands of miles on, I know that when I get inside that grey box that it’s a place of calm and recovery. It has become a symbol of rather than giving up on life, one of just resetting it.*2
*1: It important to say that, despite friends suggesting so, we took no action against the lorry driver. Even though the accident wouldn’t have happened if he had braked sooner it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t slipped, racing incident then. Also in the immediate aftermath he was a true gent, calling the ambulance and adding his coat to those already added despite the wet weather.
*2: This Astra, my Astra, I suspect is one of the exceptions to Harris’s comment even though would like to what a VXR version would have looked like. 😉