Obsession is a strong word, but for many of us it is the only word suitable to describe how we feel about the classics we own, drive or covet. Indeed, my wife has always said that there is more chance of me running off with another car than with another woman. Sadly I find that hard to argue against.
Example: the money hadn’t even left my account, let alone reach the soon-to-be-previous owner of the Fiat 500, yet I was already on ebay, trawling the site for parts I didn’t yet know I needed. Then came YouTube – pulling up videos of 500s drifting round dirt tracks or archive footage of them rolling out of the factory. Back on ebay again – this time looking for period brochures, then models, then workshop manuals, before looking through the cars for sale to check that I hadn’t made a big mistake.
In the olden days, or B.I. as I will call it (Before Internet), fulfilling the obsession was slightly more difficult. Magazines were the easy part. Simply walking into my local newsagent meant that I could browse each issue in detail – if there was a news story, buying guide, feature, or a cover shot (the holy grail), pertaining to my obsession at the time then I would part with cash and leave with the mag.
If I needed a spare part and didn’t want to buy new, then whereas now I’d hop straight on ebay or put a wanted post on an owners club forum, I’d excitedly journey to the nearest specialist and dig through the car graveyard out the back of their workshop. Finding what I needed would be a bonus – simply being among the rusting hulks and imagining what they were like in their heyday was enough to give me my fix for the weekend.
Collecting brochures and models to fulfill that part of my obsession had to wait for the show season. What seemed like hours would be spent trawling through the alphabetically marked cardboard boxes of brochures on multiple stalls, just in the hope that somewhere there was an ultra-rare brochure featuring a 1971 Teal Blue with Limeflower interior Morris Traveller that looked exactly like mine. Of course, there wasn’t.
It has to be said, that the majority of stuff I end up filling the house with rarely gets a second look at. Only a handful of the best books get day-release from my bulging bookcases, and there are only so many different ways to paint a 1:18 Mini diecast before the similarity takes over, but I still spend hours at car boot sales buying crappy Land-Rover models with missing wheels and bent bumpers.
But for me, all of this is necessary. You see, I’ve always been a compulsive collector. When we bought our first house – a Victorian terrace in Reading, I filled it with three main collections. There was a fine collection of hand-propelled meat mincers. Not just any mincer – they had to be from the Spong manufacturer. Then there was a vast array of soda-water dispensers – mostly the 1970s sparkle-finish type, although this did later extend to include earlier glass examples. Finally came the vintage radio collection. The largest and oldest valve radios were arranged on shelves up the wall á la flying ducks. The walls were so old and soft thanks to the lime-mortar that I had to use industrial-sized rawl plugs and screws to hold the shelves up, but they looked impressive nonetheless. The smaller radios and other period nick-knacks were dotted around the house. Dusting was a nightmare.
Over the years though, these collections shrank. Now only the particularly attractive or rarer examples remain, but there is a simple reason for this: they have been overtaken by one huge obsession. Classic cars. I have got rather more rational about it – as marques come and go from my ownership, so does some of the merchandise. As soon as the emotional attachment starts to diminish slightly, I allow some of the models, books, brochures and spares to slip from my grasp. Of course, I see this as a good thing, but in truth it is merely creating more space to be rapidly filled by paraphernalia relating to the current obsession.
Fortunately, Mrs P doesn’t moan. As a lover of classics herself she knows it could be much worse and I know she would prefer to have the house full of car stuff rather than being forced to explain the bizarre array of meat mincers in the front room…