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My love affair with the car will never conk out
They have been demonised and are portrayed as a threat to the planet but, says self-confessed speed-freak Boris Johnson, cars are a force for liberty and democracy
For years after that terrible death, I felt a pang every time I pulled into Oxford station.
Boris Johnson: ‘An Englishman’s car used to be his castle, or at least his mobile fort’
There was the scrapyard. There was the grabber with its evil jaws. Whenever I saw it I remembered the T-Rex aggression with which it lurched down on its victim; pausing and juddering as though savouring the moment.
It smashed through the windows, the windscreen, buckling the paper-thin steel. I heard the whine of the crusher and I turned away.
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I could not listen to the death agonies of my driving companion, or see the reproachful look in those loyal headlights. Even today I cannot go past that knacker’s yard without bidding peace to its ghost.
A Fiat 128 two-door saloon, 1.2 litres, the Italian Stallion was the trusty steed that emancipated me from the shackles of childhood.
Inside that happy brown plastic cabin, with its curious fungal growth on the roof, there took place all manner of brawls, romance, heartbreak and general growing-up. Above all, it was the car in which I had my first crash.
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No one knew how it came to be in the family. My mother claims it was hers, though other sources suggest that my father bought it in Brussels, from a squash opponent called Sue.
It was sitting in the yard one day when my brother Leo and I decided to take it for a ride. Neither of us could drive, but there is a two-mile dirt track that links our farm to the main road, and we felt we could learn.
We lolloped off, groaning in first gear, until finally we reached the main road where the machine stalled and a cloud of steam rose from the bonnet. We had a problem.
We had to turn round, and we couldn’t go on the metalled road, since neither of us had a licence.
But we hadn’t done a turn before and we were aware of another car about 20 yards away.
This obstacle was probably the only other vehicle within five square miles of this bit of under-populated moorland.
With every manoeuvre, we seemed to arc ever closer to the other machine, as if sucked by some fatal magnet. Now our boot was just feet from its bonnet, and it was necessary to reverse.
I had never reversed a car before. The wheels spun in the dust, we shot backwards and, with a smooth easy grace, we shunted the only other car in the district rapidly and deftly into a tree.
When the tinkling had stopped, Leo broke the silence and said: ”Hey, that was great,” speaking for every human being who has ever experienced the thrill of the automobile – the joy of moving far faster than nature intended, by a process you barely understand, and yet somehow surviving.
Continue reading Life in the Fast Lane: The Johnson Guide to Cars →