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24th October 2023

The Dinosaur’s Last Ride: Paul Joyce on why he’s still a petrolhead in the age of electric cars

Paul Joyce


Yes, that’s me, I’m the dinosaur. Surrounded by exhortations and ads for electric vehicles, all at what seem like heavily inflated prices, and unable to even afford to glance at a Lexus, I have to declare that I am an unabashed petrolhead. From the moment I clambered into a £25 pre-war, three forward geared Austin, I was hooked. No matter that when the £1.50 clutch plate failed, the car had to be jacked up and the gearbox removed to replace the thirty-bob part: that was all part and parcel of the fun. But the blindness of even the greatest manufacturers such as Land Rover can lead to extremely costly mistakes. Take my current vehicle which I am about to, reluctantly, part with: a 2010 Range Rover Sport. It boasts a fantastic three-litre diesel engine, capable of driving you to the moon and back with scarcely a drop of additional oil needed.

But those clever lads at LR did not think about any kind of major engine failure; so they positioned one of the most important aspects, namely the injectors (10 or 12 of them) in a location under the rear bonnet housing which makes them nigh impossible to service, and certainly not replaceable without recourse to heavy plant equipment. Thus, a hundred pound job swiftly morphs into a grand of anyone’s money. Buyer and driver be aware that expensive cars are like, at least as I am informed, all water-going vessels, namely an invitation to open your wallet over the nearest storm drain.

Clearly in an ideal world we should all be driving Teslas, and probably would be if they cost 15 rather then 50 thousand. But the race to obtain the plug-in option seems to me to be gathering pace at an alarming speed; this combined with an element of panic fuelled by successive government pronouncements about the damage we are all doing, consciously or unconsciously, to our precious environment.

Contemplating the fag end of a five decade long vehicular list which, amongst others, comprised an original Mini, countless Morris Minors, Ford 5 cwt vans, something before Nissan became Nissan, a Ford Mondeo (rapidly sold due to a child’s upchuck) and pride of place, Stanley Kubrick’s ex -Mercedes S Class, should it be electric, Hybrid, diesel or petrol? Well I think by now you have probably guessed, I am way too old to change and fiddle around in crowded waystations with disconnecting APPS waiting to top up a depleted set of ridiculously cumbersome batteries. For me still the smell of petrol and the inevitable dribble of fuel onto one’s toecap any day!

So, petrol or diesel is the likeliest option, with a brief flirtation with the notion of a hybrid, but 20k plus soon put that idea firmly to bed. Fortunately, near to where I live in High Wycombe, lies a farmhouse on the edge of town where the outbuildings seem to all be devoted to the dead, dying and damned of generations of Land Rovers: V and G Agricultural.  Standing firmly in charge of this battlefield of ancient armour, reminiscent of Napoleon at Austerlitz, stands James, a man of few well-chosen words, and his partner the loquacious Mick, thus forming a formidable double-act.

So, with some trepidation I approach James and ask about which vehicle I should consider as my (pen)ultimate vehicle?  “Freelander 2” comes the immediate reply followed by the epithet, “bullet-proof!  That’s the kind of vehicle we like, the ones we rarely see as they are so reliable. Or rather we don’t like as we are in the repair business.”  So I ask him to perhaps look out for a replacement for my Range Rover Sports, one that will not have me tearing my hair out over replacement injector prices, or inconvenient recalls like some I am still waiting on (exploding rear windscreen housings, for example, what the main Land Rover agent says is a four day job, whilst James says “four hours more like”.)  Good enough for me, Freelander it is.

When I was growing up in a post World War Two south London, I could tell almost every car on the road, domestic or foreign. Now I have absolutely no idea which is what, as they all seem to be following the same pursuit of slitty-eyed SUVs. Not only do they all look alike, they are alike. For example, Volkswagen own Skoda, Seat and Cupra; Suzuki and Toyota are joined at the hip; the latest Rolls Royce and the BMWX8 are basically the same underlying vehicle; Hyundai and Kia are interchangeable and Nissan own Mitsubishi and Renault.

Once, when out for a drive in my father’s cherished Morris Minor with my childhood friend, Dennis we were overtaken at unnecessary speed by the wholly unremarkable Vauxhall Viva. Dennis quickly quipped “he’s only going that fast to try and prove that he hasn’t actually bought a piece of shit!”. But these days, buying a new vehicle is like engaging in a lucky dip, with decisions based on (probably misplaced ) brand loyalty or marginal difference in price structures. This together with the fact that many are made in China, still the world’s greatest planet polluter.

I’m only too aware that I represent the past in all this, but I have serious concerns about the impact of digging for precious metals such as lithium on the environment.  Already tracts of Native American territory in Nevada are likely to turn into dustbowls after mighty corporations extract all they can, as soon as they can.  Our Earth can stand a little pollution but not the wholesale extraction of its basic elements. Such philosophy forms the basis of my decision to stay with an old-fashioned but proven technology, allowing me, and it, to gradually fade away in a discreet puff of smoke from a sturdy (bullet-proof) Land Rover.

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