ClassicLine’s resident roadtripper, Ben Coombes, is back with a brand-new series of motoring travel blogs. Combined with his love for classic cars, Ben will be bringing us tales of epic road trips, driving adventures and the latest from the Pub2Pub HQ.

This month, Ben takes a look at his current fleet, and detects a theme…

They say variety is the spice of life, and our hobby one of variety, with every classic car ownership experience being different and unique. Sometimes, a classic can bring joy, on other – fortunately rarer – occasions, it can conspire to dish out misery and a desire to get shot of pronto. Some cars remain a part of your life for a few years before you fancy a change, others which you may not gel with could be moved on within weeks.  But there’s one category of ownership which surpasses all of these.

The keeper.

You know the one. We’re referring, of course, to that car you always tell yourself you’ll never sell.  Maybe this is because you can’t imagine anything could replace it, or perhaps the experiences you’ve shared with it mean you don’t like the idea of parting. Or possibly, over the years, your classic has been elevated beyond mere cardom, and became a kind of family pet, always there and always putting smiles on peoples’ faces.

Earlier this week, it dawned on me that all three of my current cars are, in fact, to differing degrees, keepers.

Of course, even such a definitive description as ‘keeper’ hides behind it a sliding scale, with death-us-do-part at one extreme, and something which you could possibly imagine filing a divorce against a few years’ down the line at the other. In my modest fleet of a Volvo 240, a TVR Chimaera and a classic Mini, there’s one of the latter, and two of the former.

So which is which?  Well, it’s the one which arrived on the scene most recently which is the only one I could possibly consider selling a year or two down the line. Which means that maybe it’s not a keeper after all – but don’t tell my poor Volvo that. As my long-suffering daily, it certainly doesn’t need to hear it.

The Volvo currently counts as a ‘keeper’ because right now, there’s nothing obvious that could replace it. For a start, it does everything that’s asked of it, without causing any fuss – quite an achievement for a 33-year-old everyday motor. It seats four in comfort, gets me around, doesn’t break down, and cuts a defiantly retro path through modern identikit metal. In short, it’s currently a keeper because I have no reason whatsoever to change it. Will it remain a keeper if circumstances change? I’d like to think so, but time will tell.

But the other two cars are the very definition of the keeper. One of them I’ve owned for ten years, the other for fourteen. Between them, they’ve taken me to 33 different countries, and provided a backdrop to much of my adult life. And in return, they’ve extracted far more from my wallet than any car has a right to.

The first of these cars is Kermit the TVR Chimaera. When I bought it just over ten years ago, I never intended it to still be in my life a decade later.  It was a purchase born of curiosity for several areas of motoring which I’d not yet sampled through ownership – the V8 engine, the classic British sports car and the soft top. And it provided a perfect introduction to these, and then ended up sticking around long enough that when I needed a car to take on the Pub2Pub Expedition, there was only really one choice – Kermit.

And if there’s anything which is going to turn a car into a keeper, it’s a 27,000 mile jaunt across the globe, completed in impeccable style and without breakdowns. In fact, I’d say that on its return from the eight-month trip, Kermit wasn’t just a keeper, it was a legend. Which meant that as far as my garage was concerned, it wasn’t going anywhere.

 

Three years and plenty of additional adventures later, and the situation still stands. My life seems so intertwined with the plucky green car, and there are so many memories associated with it, that it’s all set to be a fixture for years to come. Years, decades, and the rest, hopefully. When everyone else is electric and autonomous, I aspire to still be that guy in the sticker’d up V8 fibreglass throwback, reminding people exactly how good the musical past used to sound.

But what of the third car – Daisy the Mini? Despite the fact that the TVR has been hogging the road trip miles for the past decade, I’ve actually owned the Mini for four years longer, having bought it way back in the summer of 2007. So, why has the TVR had such an easy time keeping the road trip miles to itself? Simple – Daisy has been off the road for more than decade.

It’s a common story among classic car people. A car is taken off the road for a quick tidy up. But, as you dig deeper, you find a few more problems than you initially envisaged. And in Daisy’s case, what with it being a product of that bastion of build quality – British Leyland in the ‘70s – those problems revolved around one thing.

Rust.

But, over a decade ago, work was started. I stripped the car down, boxed up much of it for storage and started buying repair panels. The engine came out, the front end was removed and the gloriously ‘70s orange paintwork stripped. But gradually, other demands on time crept in. There was money to be earned, books to be written, road trips to undertake. And as progress gradually slowed to a halt, poor Daisy ended up languishing in a barn, somewhere between strip-down and rebuild.

It never crossed my mind to sell on the project, though. It was Daisy, the Mini I’d taken down to Spain, and over to Croatia and Hungary; the successor to the original Daisy the Mini, which I’d once driven to Mongolia, in fact. Like all car enthusiasts in the same situation, I told myself that one day, I’d get Daisy back on the road.  But I never quite got round to it.

Years passed, road trips happened, books were written and the TVR kept grabbing all the glory, while Daisy sat in a barn, neglected and in pieces. But then, something unprecedented happened, which meant that for a while, there would be no more trips to take precedence, and no excuse not to get stuck into getting Daisy back on the road. That unprecedented thing was, of course, Covid.

And so, the Mini which was once too cute to sell is now the centre of attention once again, and I’m looking forwards to the day when all three of my keeper cars are roadworthy, and ready for adventure at a moment’s notice.

Although I can’t guarantee that if this comes to pass, there won’t be another project car replacing Daisy in the workshop, in pretty quick time.

Of course whether this future project car will also find itself becoming a keeper, remains to be seen.