Talking Motors: Boxy, unstable, slow: What's not to love?

It's happening.I'm turning into my dad.

Friday, 16th September 2016, 8:59 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 2:00 pm
The Vauxhall Agila could get up to a white-knuckle top speed of 96mph

There’s always been room in my affections for totally rubbish cars - but I’ve always thought these rubbish cars had a certain kitsch value - the kind of thing that would break down on you but still comes with a lovable charm so you don’t mind. Austin Allegros, Metros and the Hillman Imp spring to mind (and, yes it did take all of my strength not to include the Lada Riva and Trabant in that list - they, as you now know, are wishlist items I can’t explain).

This list doesn’t include out-and-out rubbish with no hidden charm, or so I thought, until last Sunday.

And so I’m driving my grandad’s Vauxhall Agila the short distance from his house to mine for a visit.

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Tango in his most iconic role

The Vauxhall Agila is, on the surface, a difficult car to love.

It looks like an egg box on wheels, the driving position is very high for a small car, making gear changes from the clunky lever coming out of the floor awkward and it handles like a block of flats on wheels hurtling down a hill, i.e. not very well.

And I learned to drive in one.

When my older brother and I were taking our first steps onto the open road, my dad was after something cheap and cheerful for us to learn in, and the Agila fit the bill. I think the price must have appealed to my grandad, who also promptly bought one for himself, but he splashed out on a roof rack and chrome effect door handles to try and make the point that his choice was more down to practicality than watching the pennies.

Tango in his most iconic role

Of course, me being a teenager, I didn’t see that a car to buy for one’s children ought to be something not to shed tears over in the event of a shunt, and I just thought dad thought it a necessity to strip me of every ounce of what little street cred I had.

The thing was a nightmare to drive and a nightmare to be seen in - though of course my dad would have none of it.

I pootled around feeling like Simon from The Inbetweeners, in his Fiat Cinquecento (the 90s Hawaii edition) and was feeling it would get blown over at a moment’s notice. But dad insisted it drove like a go kart, and even drew comparisons with an MG Midget! I was unable to even say: “Pardon?” when I heard that - and I just carried on hating the thing.

But at least I had access to a car, and despite its OAP appeal, boxy appearance and gear lever which felt like it would come off in your hand after a thousand fistful of neutrals at least I didn’t have to get the bus anymore.

I think a lot of my hatred for that Agila was not necessarily the car’s fault, but more the fact I was uninitiated.

After all, ours was the 1.2 version, and could whizz from 0-60 in a heady 12.5 seconds and get up to a white-knuckle top speed of 96mph - which I can (truthfully) say I never got close to.

Grandad’s has spent its 12-year lifespan laregly tucked away, only covering 7,000 miles in that time. So when he decided a rare trip in the car was in order, I suggested we take his for a run.

The handling was fun, the drive was involved and the challenge of driving smoothly for grandad added to the fun.

Dad was right.

Fond Farewell to Tango, the tiger in your tank

Tango the Tiger is roaring in the big petrol forecourt in the sky.

One of several Tigers to appear in the 1990s Esso TV adverts, he died this week and was thought to be Britain’s oldest at 22.

Esso first used the tiger in its advertising when rationing after the Second World War was ended, and later the ‘put a tiger in your tank’ slogan became one of the best advertising campaigns in history.

People tell me you used to get free stuff with petrol, and Esso used to give away toy tiger tails to wrap around your petrol cap and stickers proclaiming: “I’ve got a tiger in my tank.”

All I can ever remember getting free with petrol were Jar Jar Binks Star Wars posters –bthey were also from Esso, when it used to have Fishwicks in Billinge.

Tango came into the frame in the 1990s when conservationists were warning tigers in the wild were in real danger of becoming extinct.

And Esso, with its parent company, ExxonMobil, played a role in the establishment of the Save The Tiger Fund in 1995.

When news broke earlier this week of Tango’s death, at the Woodside Wildlife Park in Lincolnshire, thousands of messages flooder social media timelines.

Park director, Neil Mumby, who orchestrated a £250,000 project to rehome Tango in 2014 after he was rescued from a European circus, said: “A normal age for a tiger to reach would be approximately 15 – so at 22 he was over 100 years old in human terms,” he said.

“We were happy to give him a good, peaceful retirement for two-and-a-half years – we have seen him chasing butterflies, swimming and behaving like a tiger deserves to.”