THIS IS one of those cases where my worst car was also my favourite. It was more than that, it was practically a family heirloom. My mother first owned this turquoise Volkswagen Beetle before it was passed on to my sister. When she had finished with it, the Beetle became mine.

Its paintwork made it extremely difficult to miss in a crowded car park but it was also very difficult to live with.

Even getting inside was a pain. I think it must have had the heaviest doors in the world, but at least I got a free work-out. After struggling with the doors, I got to exercise my left leg because the clutch pedal was mounted so high. But my visit to the Volkswagen gymnasium did not end there. Once seated, I was called upon to wrestle with the heavy, elastic- band covered steering wheel.

In the summer, I could finish my work-out with a sauna. By the time I got out of the Beetle the plastic seats were so hot my clothes were absolutely dripping wet.

Not only was it a pain to drive, it could also play nasty tricks on me. On one occasion the exhaust blew up without warning and I should think most of Greater London could hear the bang.

Several times, I used the Beetle as an excuse for being late for work. I can remember coming to a halt in the middle of the Hammersmith flyover - which wasn't fun. I did motor maintenance at school and I reckon I understand how engines work. However, the Beetle's little air-cooled unit is a very baffling affair.

I didn't embarrass myself by looking at the spare wheel under the bonnet. But that oil-encrusted lump in the boot defied all my attempts to start it. Thank heavens for the AA!

It was slow, difficult to drive and utterly unreliable, but I still loved it for its character. I can even remember the registration - ABO 95K. We all called it "Little Abo".

But that didn't stop me from taking it back to the family home in Rutland, where I left it to rust away quietly. My mother eventually made me sell it and it went to a great home. A Beetle enthusiast turned up and promised to restore it and, as far as I know, it is still going strong. I'd never consider another Beetle. The new one looks the part but it's too slick. Unlike "Little Abo".

Julia Bradbury has just finished a stint on the BBC's `National Lottery'. She is a presenter for the BBC's `Top Gear' and `Top Gear Water World'. She also currently presents `Backstage' for BBC Choice. She was speaking to James Ruppert

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