There was only one car for the thrusting young buck in the 1980s… a Porsche.
If, however, you were a thrusting young provincial journalist the only car in town was the Ford Fiesta XR2 Mk 2. Mine cost £5,500 new – around £17,000 at today’s prices – which seems quite modest. But it was still a hefty chunk out of a salary of under £15,000.
Boy, was it worth every penny though.
Its bigger brother, the Ford Escort XR3, was for Essex wideboys, while the Sierra XR4 was the preserve of Essex villains. But the XR2 was perfect: it looked great, had plenty of “oomph” and was flash – but not too flash. In short, the perfect posing wagon for the young hack around town with his own pop column.
My E reg – in red with black trim – had all the kit: huge pepperpot alloys, rally-style fog lights, buzzbox exhaust and the Art Deco steering wheel, that looked like the dial of an old radio. Add in the stereo – cassette and radio – sun roof, chunky low profile tyres and racing seats; what more could you need?
Well, ABS, power-steering and ESP would have been handy, but this was the 1980s, the decade of get-up and go and do it yourself.
The XR2 had a nice throaty roar when you accelerated – not as throaty or deep as the Alfasud, but pleasing enough on the ears. And it was second to none when flooring it away from traffic lights unless the other car was a Porsche, Bimmer, XR4, XR3 or, later, a Peugeot 205GTI.
But that stereo was just perfect for booming out those Eighties cassettes – Level 42, Dire Straits, King, and INXS. It was an aspirational time with careers and fortunes made for the ambitious go-getters. Meanwhile, the rest of us kept on dreaming as we motored around Coventry Ring road on the way home from Park Lane night club with Money for Nothing blaring from the stereo .
And somehow the XR2 perfectly fitted that era when designer labels – as seen on Miami Vice – were a must. Of course Sonny Crockett drove around the moody streets of Miami in a black Ferrari with Jan Hammer playing loud. But who needed a Ferrari when you had a Lacoste polo shirt, pastel green Boss chinos and a red and black XR2 to love and cherish?
However, the course of true love never runs smoothly. Jealous rivals used to enjoy leaving their mark on the red metallic paintwork, running keys along it, bending the wing mirrors and, once, breaking the sidelight window.
That most Eighties of security measures – the Krooklok – became a vital accessory, wrapped around the steering wheel and brake pedal. Police officers also didn’t appreciate the XR2’s impressive acceleration and it proved a magnet for bored anti-boy racer traffic cops to pull over late at night for “routine checks.” And the lack of powersteering and zippy performance tested the driver’s ability, and his limits as well.
Occasionally those were found wanting – my biggest “moment” ended up with a broken rear axle and two front steering struts bursting through the front wing after hitting a central reservation kerb on the A1 at high speed, skidding out of control and eventually coming to rest near a scrapyard for old Volvos.
After a couple of weeks in the local Ford garage she emerged, almost, but not quite, as right as rain.
Eventually, love for my XR2 began to wane – the old spark had gone, and we began to take each other for granted, and the weekly car wash become monthly, or not at all. Suddenly the XR2 didn’t seem the bees knees anymore. The ambitious hack had ambitions for something grander – a company car.
The break came suddenly and unexpectedly when in the dead of night, thieves noticed the Krooklok had not been fitted and made off with my pride and joy. Nothing was heard of it for a few days until came the fateful call from the police: “We’ve found your car.”
That was the only good news. They’d found it all right – under an old railway bridge about a mile across a remote field. There parked behind a wrecked XR2 and an XR3, was my pride and joy, lying stripped and trashed – seats, wheels, engine, everything not bolted down – and even what was – gone.
The cops said a gang had stripped the cars down “to order” and shipped the parts “up north”. And my love affair with the UK’s finest hot hatch of its time came to a sorry and bitter end. Or as Springsteen didn’t sing – a wreck off the highway.
But this was the 1980s, with no time to grieve – mourning, like lunch, was for wimps. Within weeks the thrusting young hack had a new job, with a company car: a Ford Orion Ghia, an XR3 by another, smarter, name. But that’s another story.
Nigel Pauley is a Fleet Street journalist and now drives a very boring family estate.