My Worst Car: Helen Zahavi's Sunbeam Imp
WHEN I bought the Imp it was already very old, but all I could afford at the time. The dealer who sold it to me was very pleasant, or at least I thought he was. Unfortunately, this blue Sunbeam turned out to be a complete disaster.

These Imps had their engines in the rear and that meant no proper cooling and constant overheating, which in turn meant new gaskets and frequent rebuilds.

I remember on one occasion collecting my mother from school. The car started to lose power and in the rear-view mirror I could see red-hot metal spewing out of the back. I struggled to keep going in the traffic, changing down through the gears, but eventually the car came to a halt.

We just sat there, wondering what to do. Then a very nice man offered to push us to the roadside. We made it more difficult for him by staying in the car. We didn't think to get out at the time.

The Imp was a seasonal car in that it overheated in the summer and refused to start at all in the winter. I managed to stop condensation getting into the engine by putting an oblong pillow I had bought from British Homes Stores into the engine bay. It would be soaking wet by the morning and occasionally I would forget to take it out again, and that would also help to bring the Sunbeam to an unscheduled halt.

In fact, water was a constant problem. The car had a serious leak, which let in lots of rainwater. I would be up to my ankles in water and would have to pull out all the carpets and dry them out.

Gradually, I learnt more about cars and bought exchange parts. A friend took me to a salvage yard for tyres. We would climb over mountains of them for the right ones. I thought that was how you bought tyres.

I only found out about tyre specialists when I drove past one and got a puncture. Actually, I got three punctures while driving past this particular garage - which could not have been a coincidence. I'm sure that they threw tacks out into the road.

It was two years of hell with that car. The throttle cable snapped while I was overtaking, which wasn't funny. That Sunbeam always cost me a lot of money and was either damp, or broken down, depending on the time of year. I couldn't sell it to a normal human being without feeling guilty, but I thought that a car dealer would be able to sort it out. I wonder if he ever did?

Helen Zahavi's latest novel, `Donna and the Fatman' is published by Anchor on 11 March, price pounds 6.99. She was speaking to James Ruppert