Cars, Guns and Money* June 17, 2011Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Politics, Schmolitics.
*And if Cars, Guns & Money don’t push this up Google’s rankings, then my name isn’t Willy the Web-bot…
Now anyone who owns a car knows that ominous moment when the costs of continually repairing it suggests cutting one’s losses and flogging it. The days when I could afford to buy new cars whose value dropped 10-20% the moment you left the showroom are long gone and my strategy since has been to buy a reasonably contemporary 8–10 year-old car for under a grand and get rid of it when its worth has shrunk to £300-400, and/or it’s started to cost me more than that in repairs. That means a few years of agreeable and agreeably economic motoring and after 18 months that’s where I’ve got to with my latest daily driver – a term that prompts shrieks of mirth from certain female friends, all of whom naturally have weightier matters on their minds. (I’m obviously ignoring the automotive folly that is my beloved Lancia Gamma, but then that’s a ‘classic’ used only on high days and holidays).
Normally this realisation would herald trawling the classifieds for another cheapo turbo-diesel estate but I recently had the misfortune to make a new friend who catapulted me back to 2006 when I briefly owned a Citroen XM. He and his wife both have one of these incredibly stylish, Bertone-designed machines with their highly sophisticated (i.e. complicated) hydropneumatic suspension and extensive (i.e. complicated) electrical systems which when working properly, endow the car with its legendary ‘magic carpet ride’ and gorgeous driving experience.
Unfortunately when Citroen launched the XM in the 1989 it was in the midst of a financial crisis and thus specified cheap, often flimsy electrical components that soon rendered much of its advanced technology prone to failure, which was expensive and tricky to fettle. And that’s why I got rid of mine. The value of used XMs duly fell off a cliff and sales of the somewhat improved Series 2 models introduced in 1993/4 never redeemed their tarnished reputation, so those that remain, and there are probably less than a thousand left on UK roads, usually cost peanuts but are a bit buggered.
Nevertheless like meeting an old flame you wish you’d never deserted, when I saw my friend’s beautiful XM settled on its haunches in a Highgate street with all the subdued, elegant menace of a sleeping tiger – after starting their engines these cars rise sensually off the ground– I knew that nothing else could now replace a daily driver coming to the end of my wallet’s tolerance.
So these past few weeks I’ve been traveling the country to view XMs in various states of decline, their owners sheepishly trying to explain away lumpy suspension, knackered transmissions, stuck closed windows or stuck on warning lights as easy to fix when I know they’re not. This frustrating exercise is partly ameliorated by boisterous exchanges on the Club XM webforum where die-hard fans, most of whom seem to be retired engineers have the time and ability to repair a stable of weary cars so that at least one of them is always, ahem, a daily driver. As with most webfora, arcane and often incomprehensible references hinder the uninitiated from reaching informed decisions about cars with this or that fault in the hope that they might be cheap(ish)ly fixable by someone who isn’t a stellar mechanic (i.e. me) or lives near that increasingly scarce professional who understands these cars’ foibles (i.e. me again). But at least it’s a sufficiently entertaining diversion from what should be a pragmatic process of replacing one aging banger with a slightly younger model and indeed, the equally tedious business of day-to-day survival in the worst recession in living memory (although of course I am a victim of early onset Alzheimers).
Which brings me neatly to guns, or at least military expenditure, which according to the Commons Public Accounts Committee and taking into account cancelled projects and overspend on existing ones due to the MoD’s incompetence and possibly vested interests, is running some £36billion over-budget. Put into the context of the UK’s total budget deficit of £167billion, that mightn’t seem too much of a worry, but add on the cost of replacing our Trident nuclear submarines – currently estimated at up to £130billion – and suddenly all the political hand-wringing and subsequent public belt-tightening that we are told must follow in the wake of the bank bail-outs ought to make us very angry indeed.
That’s of course if you agree that threats of military Armageddon having diminished to the point of irrelevance (we can leave the yanks and the Israelis to bomb Iran if that country persists in its nuclear adventurism), replacing Trident is unnecessary. Indeed we would’ve been better off not scrapping the Ark Royal and the Harrier fleet which has resulted in, for example, the massively increased cost of our Libyan skirmishing by having to fly land-based fighter jets from Italy.
So as your heating, food, transport and education bills inexorably rise over the next few years, your public services close down and the pot-holed roads remain unrepaired because our government withdraws the financial support or increases the taxes that would otherwise stay these very real threats to our living standards, ask your local political representatives why they refuses to address the elephant in the room that is military expenditure. As for me, well if I do manage to buy a Citroen XM that’s working properly, at least I’ll be floating over those pot-holes in comfort and style, possibly whilst playing my violin. And until then I shall persist in my insane pursuit of doomed Gallic romance.
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