A few weeks ago I suddenly felt the urge to buy myself a second-hand car. I wasn’t looking for something to use day to day, but rather a weekend toy I could tinker with and eventually use to explain and demonstrate the inner working of a combustion engine to my son. In a perfect world, he would eventually inherit this car when he headed off to university, so it had to be cool.
My first step was to browse the UK version of Auto Trader, but I’d advise anyone against going this route because the prices they pay for second-hand machines there compared to what we pay here are just depressing.
I eventually settled on a Ford Puma, which cost the equivalent of R5000. It was the 1700cc model with electric windows and air conditioning and it had less than 90 000km on the clock.
I had always wanted to own a Puma, for two reasons. I come from a Ford family and for years I drove a Ka, on which the Puma is based, so I knew it would be a bundle of fun. It’s also entertaining without being stupidly fast, so it would be the perfect car to hand over to my son when he begins his automotive journey.
I phoned my contact who knows about these things, and he informed me that the car could theoretically be on my driveway within a few weeks for around R45 000. Unfortunately, the government and its ridiculous import laws would not allow me to import this wicked little car, so I was back to square one.
The SA car selling sites had a few options, but the prices knocked me out completely. I wanted a toy, and you can’t get much for R50 000 these days. The only realistic options were the Citi Golf and BMW 325i, but due to high demand in the thieving community, both those cars would be mine for around an hour before they found their way to some fiend’s driveway instead.
Being a man, I couldn’t just let this buying urge pass, so I raised my budget and started hunting again.
There are some great finds out there, but sporty cars from around 20 years ago tend to be rather abused. I wanted something I could tinker with over weekends, but I simply don’t have the time, or budget to rebuild an unloved car from the ground up. And to be perfectly blunt, the performance of a Mazda MX-6 is deeply disappointing when you drive it now. I remember reading how well this car performed years ago when it first came out, but measured against something as everyday as the current Golf diesel, it really is pathetic.
After crossing a few cars such as the MX-6 off my list, I eventually settled on a Mini. There are a few old school models, as well as first-generation BMW Minis, available across the country, and the prices aren’t half bad.
I was on my way to check one out when colleague “GG” made an extremely valid point. As the features editor of a national magazine specialising in large 4×4 vehicles, I’d look pretty stupid behind the wheel of a Mini. It’s man logic, but it does make sense.
The obvious answer was to get a 4×4, but it would not be used in the way it was intended. When we go off-roading, it’s always for a car test or an adventure of some sort, which means my very own 4×4 would be left unloved at home. It would be nice to work on something as mechanically challenging as an old 4×4, but it would break my heart if it never got dirty.
The only option left was an old 1980s Mercedes Benz saloon. This would allow me to cruise around feeling like a gangster in a Guy Ritchie movie. Old Mercs are very cool at the moment and German cars from that era are well known for being almost indestructible.
Problem is, I don’t know how long this coolness is going to last. I have no idea how trends work, but chances are that it’s going to be “unhip” by the time I hand it over to my offspring.
Luckily, by the time I realised this, the buying urge had gone away, but being a car lover, I just know it’s going to come back at some point. Hopefully something will have happened by then. Maybe I’ll be a more logical human being, but I doubt it.
There is only one solution. The government needs to change its import policy so that I can have my Puma. Otherwise I face certain financial ruin and the risk of becoming deeply untrendy before I reach the customary coolness threshold when I turn 30 next year.