Confession time. That old line that you can’t be classed a car fanatic unless you’ve owned an Alfa must’ve originated from an Alfa salesman, as I think it’s a load of tosh. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to own an Alfa, but the ones that I covet tend to carry a monumental price tag. That’s not to say I don’t like some of the other models on offer across the ages, but I always leant towards the Germans with their Audi, BMW or Mercedes marques.
This was back in a previous life as a road warrior for a blue chip global firm when your wheels were determined, not by your personal choice, but by your pay grade. Being young and stupid, I thought it was amazing that following my arrival at a blue chip company, taking the induction meetings and being issued with a key card and a lanyard, my being sent to see the fleet manager meant that I was getting wheels. New wheels. What treasures awaited me.
Firstly, as I was new, it meant I was under probation for six months, essentially to see if I fitted the company culture, could work in a team and wasn’t a plant for a major competitor. Secondly, this meant that I was given a list of cars that fitted my position and standing in the place and so, as I met the fleet manager, who had a face like he had never been loved, I was handed a sheet with the list on it.
Frankly, it wasn’t really a list more a simple choice. Of two cars. Deflated was not the word. My look into the dead, soulless eyes of a man who clearly had no time for some fresh faced moron expecting something better, answered a call and turned in his chair to stare at planes flying out of Heathrow while generally trying to ignore me. So, there it was. My entry-level position lay bare before me. I could either have a BMW 316 or a Vauxhall Vectra 1.6.
Reading that last sentence I realise that it was more a choice of one. Why would I want a Vauxhall? As a child, we’d had a 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier as our family car that had left its mark on me in two, very vivid ways. Firstly, it was the same colour on the inside as the outside, namely Pastel Blue. I fear that this was why they had a shot in the brochure of it silhouetted against a sunset. But, secondly, and far more vividly painful, was where I had had to spend many summer day trips inside that sea of blueness; the middle of the rear seat. You see, while my parents up front and my siblings either side could enjoy the cloth interior, the centre section of this car seat was vinyl.
Racing back to the car from Wookey Hole, or some such British day trip location, I would stand and wait outside for ages if I had arrived to find that all that delicious summer sunshine had cascaded in through all the windows and landed on nothing else other than that strip of plastic. Opening the car, you were welcomed by an almost acrid air of potential seat lava waiting for no one else other than me. And, because the sun was out, and because I was even smaller than I am today, it meant that the shorts I had on gave me two seating options. One, perch precariously between the two front seats and hover above the lava or two, sit back in the seat and face third degree burns on the backs of my knees.
So, there you have it. I have no love for any Vauxhall models from either then or now because they weren’t vehicles but child torture chambers. And that’s why, here, faced with one of their kind as my daily drive, I chose the BMW. A bog standard, base level, no frills, no extras, 316. In sodding Blue.
However, because I was under probation, and because these cars would only be ordered for the new starters once we were past the probation stage, I had to be given a pool car. Bearing in mind that you’ve seen what choice I had, the pool cars could only be worse. Had to be worse. How could they be better?
Paperwork handed back on the fleet managers desk, I waiting until he slowly turned back around and replaced the phone in its cradle. He picked up my paper with my ticked selection and looked at me as if to say, ‘so, another BMW then…’ He filed it in another tray and then grabbed another few sheets of paper that he flicked between whilst also looking me over. This was it. The pool list was coming but it appeared that he had a choice to make. I was guessing, good list, shit list. I remember that because I’d inadvertently said that out loud.
‘Good list, shit list then’ I’d murmured and he looked up seemingly startled that I was there. ‘Actually’ he said, ‘you’re right.’
‘You don’t like people coming in here and asking for cars do you?’ I ventured. He casually remarked ‘you do know what my fucking job is don’t you?’ Now I know I was young and stupid but it was written on the back of his paper tray in front of me so, being a cocky little twerp, I nearly turned it around so he could see for himself.
‘I have people come to me all the time trying to get a better car, more extras, change the colour, increase the spec, change the wheels. You need to understand that there is a grade system applied to you all and I am here to enforce it.’ Ah, he does know what his job is.
‘Right, I’ll gladly take the shit list and have the shittiest one you have please. Preferably something really shit, no radio, high mileage, lots of squeaks and unreliable if you have it. Oh, and feel free to put some actual shit in it too.’ I smiled and laughed in order to show that I was looking to see if he was still human over that side of the desk. He leant forward, looked into my eyes and said, ‘Right, you can have the white Rover 600 then. It’s the dictionary definition of shit.’ He held my gaze for a second before breaking into a wide smile and sitting back in his chair.
Then, he laughed. ‘Ha, the look on your face is priceless. I take it you know what that 600 looks like then?’ Of course I did. I’d seen enough Rovers and I hated every single one of them but the 600 with its fugly squashed front, boxey middle and sticking out arse was a full-on, 2am hoppo-crock-apig.
What proceeded to happen thought, was that we sat there, discussing cars from the executive 7-series and S-classes down to the entry-level choice I had been given. After a full-on natter and two ignored phone calls, he finally stated that I had no choice but to take what he was going to give me. There was no list, I had no selection to make but my gamble at finding the human under the fleet manager veneer had paid off. I’m glad to say that I walked out of the office with the key to a 5,000-mile pool car. An Alfa 156.
OK so it was Pale Blue with a tan interior and, until today, it had been my only long distance driving partner from the brand. It was thirsty but then I had a fuel card from the company so didn’t need to worry too much, but I remember it wasn’t nailed together that well. I never personally suffered but I believe they had the usually prescribed dodgy electrics that everyone goes on about and overall, although I had it for a few months, I never thought fondly of it.
So, why this incessant need to prove your value as an automotive industry fan by owning something that looks good, never works, loses money like old people in Vegas and delivers nothing but heartache?
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you, the case for the defence: The Alfa Romeo Giulia.
I want it.
I want it a lot.
I want it as much as I want to see a burning man celebration made out of Rover 600’s.