I graduated in the summer of 1997 and, in lieu of any better offers, returned to my temporary holiday job of some years while I worked out what I wanted to do with my life. After a few months, I applied to the John Lewis graduate training scheme and decided to also apply for a job in the local store in order to give me a feel of the Partnership way of life to see if I liked it. The only problem with this was actually getting to the store, as it was out of town and the local buses were frustratingly infrequent. Therefore, I decided that the best thing to do was treat myself to a little graduation present – a new car.
My dad and I weighed up the pros and cons of new versus second-hand, but we decided that new was my best bet. There were some pretty good deals around that included insurance and breakdown cover, plus a new car would be far more reliable for all those little trips back up the motorway to Manchester to see my friends. That’s how, in November 1997, I ended up taking delivery of a shiny new Peugeot 106 3dr 1.1 Independence. Small cars were quite basic back then so I plumped for the XL special edition in order to get the luxury of split-fold rear seats, power steering, a sunroof and a driver’s airbag (yes, that was optional), plus metallic paint. For months my dad made me paranoid about where I parked it but, after the paintwork got its first light scratches, I slowly became less precious about it. It wasn’t just called Independence, it was my independence.
That little Pug and I went everywhere together. I drove to work at John Lewis in it – with one other person on weekdays, and a further two passengers on a Saturday – drove to Manchester occasionally, and gave my friends lifts home on countless nights out. As hardly any of my friends could drive in my late teenage years, I’d got used to driving in the evening to save us all on cab fare. My new car was such a novelty that I really didn’t mind continuing this trend and so it soon became known as The Party Car, with carefully composed mix tapes blasting as we set off into town or to a nearby club. When I met Topper, that car got me up and down the motorway every other weekend to see him. When I finally moved back to the north west, the 106 was my removal van. It helped us move into our first flat, made numerous journeys to Ikea, got me through my advanced driving test, trekked to North Yorkshire many times, and quite possibly knew its way around the streets of Manchester by itself. Two more home-moves later and countless hours spent flipping the back seats and filling the back with as much stuff as humanly possible, the time finally came to find a replacement.
The 106 always impressed people with the amount of boot space and it’s always had a fair bit of poke for such a small engine, but it became loud on motorways and the lacquer on the paintwork is now flaking in places (thanks to Hackney bird poo, I might add). It’s now time for ‘luxuries’ like a CD player, electric windows and air con. It’s time for a vehicle that has sensibly-spaced pedals so that I can share the driving with someone who has larger feet. After nearly 105,000 miles together, today it’s finally time to say goodbye to my little Peugeot and get a nearly-new Seat. My obsession with cars may have dwindled with the move to London, but my love of driving remains. Here’s to many more happy, and quieter, miles of motoring.