ooking back over the years, when it comes to motoring, there have been many times when diminished finances have forced me to scrape the bottom of the proverbial barrel. In the late ’80s, self-employed and practically penniless, I swapped a Pentax SLR camera for a ropey old 105E Ford Anglia that I subsequently bogged up and painted red over black. The ‘restored’ Anglebox proved itself totally reliable, and I ran it as my everyday car for around six months, at which time someone made an offer to buy the Ford that I simply couldn’t refuse. With a bit of extra folding in my pocket, I ‘upgraded’ to a slightly less ancient Morris 1800. It drove a little better than the Anglia — although the gear-change action was rather akin to stirring a wooden spoon in a bowl of cold porridge. Having said that, the Morris only let me down once, although it did develop a ravenous appetite for oil.
My period of Morris ownership lasted about as long as my time with the Anglia, and fortunately my finances improved to the extent that I was able to trade the 1800 in on a Sunbeam Rapier fastback. Luckily for me, the dealer selling the Rapier never bothered to give the Morris a mechanical check — if he had, he would’ve discovered that the sump was full of Wynns for Oil, the only way I could stop the car from belching thick clouds of exhaust smoke!
From the Sunbeam on, things improved somewhat on the personal motoring front — although having one of my Triumph TR7S destroyed by a neglectful taxi driver on the Southern Motorway, and the time my AW11 Toyota MR2 went for a swim in a flooded garage, were notable low points.
In late 2005, I came to the decision that I didn’t want to continue using my Lotus Elise as an everyday car and, with money tight, I found myself looking around for a cheap everyday runner. New Zealand Classic Car’s one-time deputy editor, Tim Nevinson, came up with the answer when he told me about an Alfa Romeo Sprint being sold at a local garage. The price was right — $1500 — and the car itself didn’t look too battered or beaten up. A deal was done, and I found myself driving home in the car — a silver, 1985 1.5-litre QV, my very first encounter with an Alfa Romeo carrying the famous quadrifoglioverde.
In typical Alfa fashion, the Sprint was great to drive despite a notchy gear change and squeaky brakes. The 1.5-litre boxer four wasn’t exactly a performance powerhouse, but it had sufficient jubblies to propel the Sprint along the tarmac at a respectable pace. Of course, as you’d expect, the car really came alive when presented with a series of tight corners and, despite the fact that I’m not a real fan of front-wheel-drive cars, the Alfa never had less than a sure touch.
Mind you, it wasn’t all beer and skittles — the headlights had an unnerving habit of dying every now and again, which made night driving a rather chancy option. I eventually solved that problem by repositioning the earth strap so that it wasn’t bolted onto a patch of rust. However, I didn’t bother to remove the rust — doing that would have been a sure-fire route to a comprehensive restoration, out of the question when considering the woeful lack of bucks in my bank account at the time. If I’d been a bit more flush, perhaps my 1.5 Sprint QV might’ve one day looked as good as the later, 1.7-litre example featured elsewhere in this edition.
Another missed opportunity — and there are plenty of those lurking in my back pages!