It's as if the tabloid fodder of a few years ago is happening to me. You know, that rash of stories about people who rediscovered their first loves thanks to social media (it would have been Friends Reunited back then I guess) and realised that everyone they had met in between had been inconsequential – mere dalliances, petty affairs that just blew a smattering of autumn leaves over the path of true love.
Well, recently, I have been reconnected with my Triumph, The Beast.
This is not to denigrate the adoration I have for my other classics, just that something immensely strong, a bond that has been on the back-burner, has been rekindled. Not rekindled exactly, but more like a couple of gallons of accelerant coming together with a tinderbox and a catherine wheel in the Large Hadron Collider.
Some history. My Triumph isn't really 'my' Triumph. And it isn't really a PI (there was no such thing in 1965, after all).
Half a lifetime ago, my car-mad then-teenage friend Humphrey Hale went off to study geology in Wales, where he met someone called Andy Thompson. Andy, like elder brother Doug, was a Triumph nut (the picture above shows him in his racer) and soon educated Humph in the way of the marque. Brainwashed him, if you like.
In no time at all, Humph was the owner of a superb Mk2 PI called Big Red, perfect student wheels at the time, which the pair of them fettled, improved and modded. Ah, poor old Big Red, what a lovely car that was until it had a cataclysmic coming together with an isolated Welsh farmhouse.
They soon tracked down another shell, a Mk1 2000 auto in Cactus Green that had been laid up for an age, but was rust-free. Big Red's bits were transferred into the 'new' shell and The Beast was born.
Humph drove the Mk1 relentlessly until he and Andy decided to go and seek their fortunes on the other side of the world in the early 1990s, at which point Beastie went into storage with Doug.
When it became clear that they weren't coming back – even though the fortunes were proving elusive – and I smacked my TR7 into the barriers at Castle Combe, I decided that The Beast should be unleashed.
Humph, being the chap he is, agreed and instantly suggested half-ownership if I recommissioned it, which I did in late 1997, first writing about it in the April 1998 issue of C&SC. Crikey, that means I've had it 14 years!
I won't bore you (again) with the details but, during that first flush of ownership, I reckon that, as well as being my daily driver, the Triumph got me into hillclimbing and sprinting (the first was our Wiscombe Poor Boys' Tour, still one of the best), did 1000 track miles at Castle Combe and burbled round back-to-back Club Triumph Round Britain Reliability Runs.
It didn't do all this for free, of course, but I did have the wherewithal to keep on top of it back then and, if I add it all up, it's still cost me less per mile than any classic I have owned.
Inevitably, our relationship changed over time as we got comfy with each other, but despite all the other classics that came and went (rather more seem to have come than gone), and in spite of me toying with the idea of shipping it to Humph in Aus when it was being neglected (he didn't need it any more, he had already bought a clone of it Down Under, see picture two above), I could never quite sever my ties with The Beast.
Sadly, as the Elliott fleet expanded, the Triumph became ever more neglected. This was its own fault. It would sit patiently in a lock-up for the best part of the year and then, if I had some competition lined up or everything else was having a tantrum, it would just start with the minimum of fuss, do whatever was required of it, then without a mutter of complaint get packed away again.
And it still does, on the whole. Except that, after its collision with a Volvo estate in Putney and an electrical fire halfway up Prescott, the list of items I have been putting off addressing grows ever longer. There was always a top-end rebuild in the offing, the gearbox has been on its way out for years and the diff has never been right in my ownership, but it's a long time now since I did any of the bodywork, small bits were even cannibalised in the panic to get the Jensen ready for my wedding last summer (that was absolutely The Beast's nadir) and everything is just that bit more ragged than it used to be. Not quite back to the "scrofulous" that ex-C&SC Editor Mark Hughes once used to describe it, but 'shabby' at least.
To be absolutely honest, with all my recent fleet-shuffling and money-raising schemes, it looked as if my time with the Triumph was coming to a close. Then all the other cars threw their toys out of the pram at once and, having sat out of sight out of mind round the back of the offices for months, with a flat battery and a flat tyre, the Triumph was risen from the dead when I could no longer bear to drive moderns (for the record I lasted about a week). There was a poetic justice when I cannibalised the Jensen (battery) to get the Triumph back on the road and The Beast responded well, not even having a flat spot on that tyre. Incredibly.
So this brings us back to the beginning and me realising that my first classic love may simply have been my one true love. Everyone in the office has a smile on their face to see it being used again, I am revelling in the brutality and sheer volume of it all, the Police Stag overdrive box, the D-type-sounding sports exhaust, the smooth-revving fuel-injected straight-six, the whistle of air through the drilled discs. It must be said, I am feeling 10 years younger as a result, with Buzzcocks blasting from the stereo and me driving like an obnoxious loon. The Beast just suits me, it is an extension of me, especially the obnoxious loon bit.
A couple of other things have occurred, too. One is that the Triumph, despite everything I have written so far, still feels like the most solid and together of any of my classics. And that leads on to number two, which is that it probably wouldn't take that much investment to return it to the state it was in when I adopted it in the first place.
I am, currently, utterly besotted with the thing, remembering all the cars that, over the past 14 years, it has manhandled out of my lust-list because, thanks in part to the mods, The Beast proved better and more fun to drive. I won't name and shame, but we are talking about Maseratis and other high-end stuff, here.
So, as of today – and probably only until The Beast starts lobbing its own toys around, or until I drive any of my other classics because I genuinely do adore everything I currently own and they charm me instantly from the driving seat – Elliott Restructuring Plan 74A is to flog the lot except the Triumph (rather easier to write than to do), bring The Beast back to its brilliant best and, because I could not bear the thought of not being an Elan owner and probably won't ever have the funds to buy another, get a +2 (and a bathroom) with the change from my S2.