Motoring: My Worst Car - Where there's smoke, my car's on fire

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I HAVE thought about my worst car long and hard. Certainly the worst experience you can have in any car is to have a parent in the passenger seat. "Did you see that lorry darling? God, that was close."

The worst time I had in a car was in the Middle East when I was a passenger in a bullet-proof Rolls-Royce. That might not sound so bad, but the air- conditioning was not working and, in a bullet-proof car, the windows do not open, which means that things are likely to get a bit stuffy. It was 120 degrees in there.

As for my own driving, well, I can remember a few years back when I had no money but a need for basic transportation. There followed a succession of extremely unreliable Renault 5s. They cost about pounds 500 each; I would run one into the ground then buy another.

My worst experience in a Renault 5 happened when I was driving back to London from a theatre in Cambridge. It was two o'clock in the morning, and I noticed that smoke was coming from under the bonnet. I thought: "Bollocks, I'm not going to stop now, stranded in the middle of the M11." I reckoned that the damage had been done and surely things could not get any worse.

Which, of course, they did. Coming off the M11 I then found myself driving through some rather unfriendly districts of London when I noticed a group of rough-looking lads who were crossing the road in front of me.

They were pointing and staring and I thought that I had had it. However, what had caught their attention was not a likely victim but the fact that the Renault was by now on fire.

They even approached the Renault, tapped on the window and pointed out the rather obvious. I choked back: "Yes, yes, I know it's alight, thank you." According to my mechanic, who was always trying to put the pieces of my various Renaults back together, I should really have stopped at the first sign of smoke.

Apparently I had hastened the vehicle's demise. Although I had killed the camshafts it was still a salvageable car.

My garage mechanic reckoned better the devil-car you know, so in the end it got repaired. It taught me one important thing, though, which is: never drive a car that is on fire.

Arabella Weir's `Does my Bum look Big in This?' diary costs pounds 7.99. She is also appearing in the `Fast Show Live' audio cassette, CD and video by BBC Worldwide. She was speaking to James Ruppert.

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