Casual comments that set alarm bells ringing

| 4 Jul 2013

The other evening I pulled up at a nicely traditional row of shops on the way home. You know the sort: set back from the road, their own service road, a bench strewn with cans of Special Brew and with a random dog with a neckerchief strung to it, plus a bunch of 'yoofs' hanging around outside the pizza place.

Admittedly, I had stopped to buy a big brown bottle of cider by some brand of which I have never heard, but which sounded a bit like – and from a distance looked a bit like – one I have heard of, but I still knew I didn't really belong there.

Not least when the yoofs all turned and glared, triangles of pizza hanging out of their mouths.

The thing is, sometimes when I am in The Beast I forget that people stare because they have very little option. It is a loud and obnoxious sounding car.

Simon Taylor once exclaimed (which is approximately a millionth of the times I have since recounted his wisdom) that it sounded like a D-type at full chat when it was barely above idle.

Anyway, there I was parked up and walking past this gaggle of intimidating teens to get to the off licence when one of them says: "Nice rat-rod mate."

I thanked him and walked on.

Now, for all I know, this kid knows nothing and just pulled out a random phrase that he had heard somewhen without really knowing what it means. Or, more worryingly, he knows precisely what it means and used it quite deliberately.

Either way, that sort of verdict on a car that may be a bit rodded, but certainly isn't meant to be ratted, is like a five-minute warning for a classic owner.

Time to give it some serious attention.

Looking at the car the following day, I realised that he had a point: it is lowered, it does have the stance of a rod, and, worst of all, the state of the bodywork is rapidly descending to a level where such a description could be fitting.

The threatening demeanour of The Beast has always been one of my favourite features of it, but, putting aside the issue of whether that is still appropriate for a middle-aged family man, even I am aware that it used to have the brooding menace of an immaculately dressed Ray Liotta and now it is rather more the dishevelled aggression of Oli Reed at closing time.

Wake-up call for Mr Elliott.

There are lots of other motoring five-minute warnings of course. We used to have a Rover 216 that we inherited from my parents when we had our first child and everyone around me plotted to ensure that I had an alternative to classics to drive this precious little cargo around in.

It wasn't a bad little car actually, but as it gently decomposed I noticed that at each fill-up I put less and less fuel in it. This continued until I was clearly so certain of the Rover's imminent demise that I wasn't prepared to put more than a quarter-tank in. And then it died.

The problem with five-minute warnings, of course, is that, being human, we tend to ignore them.

That is why on my wedding day, despite the thoughtfully designed low-fuel light blazing away, I drove the Jensen until it was dry and very nearly missed the big event.

So, what's the betting that I won't do anything about the Triumph until that kid's description is bang on the money?