COAL Introduction: A Personal European Car History Of The Last 40 Years

Work in process! Happy to own a lift.


A near impossible task is to fill in the gap that JPC leaves behind. Thank you JPC for many months of excellent COALS! I can only try to aim for your level of writing and hope not to disappoint too many readers.

This, my first COAL, is not about a Car Of A Lifetime really, but is a short introduction of myself as a new writer for the coming weeks. When Paul N asked for a COAL writer, I wondered if my experiences would be interesting for the Curbside Classic community knowing I am not American but from the Netherlands. The car culture here is a little different compared to the US, and the cars I lived with and were around me may not be as well known to US readers. Then again, it is refreshing to read about cars out of the ordinary. In the past years as a reader (and sometimes commenter) of Curbside Classic I loved to learn all about the US car history. This diversity is one of the reasons I like Curbside Classic, not to mention many excellent CC writers who go beyond the car thing and tell about their lives and interests.

About 40 years ago I got my drivers license. Since then I have continuously owned cars. It started with very cheap cars, I always hesitate to spend much money on buying cars. Cheap cars meant it was possible to have more than one car and still spend far less per month compared to ordinary people on their monthly lease or whatever financing they need – I have never needed financing.


Some cars I have driven in the last 40 years. All pictures in this article are my own.


My main interest is for cars outside the main public interest. I think it is more fun to drive a car that is not seen often. Not popular cars means you get more for the money (no-one wants them) but also more difficult to sell (something I like to forget). For me, interesting cars are of an older generation and usually came from the United Kingdom, or Great Britain. British cars were never much around where I grew up, the Dutch always have been more interested in buying German, French, Italian or Japanese cars. American cars were and are also rare in the Netherlands but they are expensive to run. Not only on fuel but also because they are heavy, and heavy means high rates in our tax system.

Around the age of 13 I discovered a monthly UK classic car magazine: Thoroughbred & Classic Car. Beside being good for my English, it opened up a new world for me. An insight into British classic cars. It was amazing how cheap those old cars were, and so much more interesting compared to current cars! I decided that would be the future for me. Seeing what could be possible I vowed to never own a boring common car. Never an Opel, Volkswagen or Datsun for me! School friends were more interested in the latest Saab Turbo,  Golf Gti and of course dream cars like Ferrari, Maserati, Corvette and so on. I was more realistic and reckoned I would not be able to afford such expensive machinery in the near future so took more effort into studying affordable classics. The problem was finding one. In the UK, as evidenced in the magazine, they were everywhere but where we lived there were none.


More cars I have owned. The Impreza was a loaner from a garage.


Dealing with old cars, British cars have some advantages against French, German, Italian or other countries. In the pre-internet days, information was fairly easy to come by, there is always a good supply of handbooks, workshop and parts manuals, written in clear English so easy to understand. For almost all cars you will be able to find a good factory workshop manual. These manuals are excellent with exploded views for the parts and good, down to earth descriptions of work needed. Try finding that in Italian or French manuals, if even available. Many owners were used to do DIY maintenance and a whole cottage industry (often very small) is there in order to keep parts available. There are many specialists. Car makes often used generic parts for electrics (Lucas, insert your old joke here), brake and clutch (Lockheed, Girling) and other items (instruments, locks) which is good for the availability. The cars often have enthusiastic owners & a big following which translates to active owners clubs and internet forums.

Of course not all British cars are interesting, at least not for me. I am not a Ford lover, Vauxhall (GM) also keeps me cold. Cars made after the mid seventies usually got boring – of course there are exceptions. Up to the mid seventies UK cars had good styling, practical sizes, a touch of class and individualism. It seems it was easier in those days to experiment more and do things differently: use of fluid suspension (BMC), overhead camshaft engines (Jaguar, Hillman Imp), old fashioned styling (Armstrong Siddeley), advanced styling (E-type), re-introduction of a separate chassis (Herald). It looked like anything was possible. Very interesting times unlike today it seems, at least in my view.


And there’s more! 


Production quality became the Achilles heel of British cars, this has lots to do with union strikes, wrong management decisions, not enough testing beforehand, etc etc. I am not going deep into that because it is a never ending discussion.

We are lucky that the Brits did produce some fantastic cars, most of which can be used without much problems still today. Spare parts availability is often very good and not eye watering expensive compared to car makes of other countries. In the pre-internet days, this was a huge advantage.




From my 16th year onward, I worked Saturdays at a local Volvo specialist garage. Here I learned much about cars and its construction, tools and even earned a little money. Later I could work on my own cars using all the equipment the garage had. This was excellent because my father did not really own tools. There was a hammer, a pair of pliers and a couple of screwdrivers, but that was about it. I cannot remember him ever doing repairs, fixing a light or even hanging up a picture. If anything was needed around the house he would call in the help of a neighbor. Bikes, cars, these technical things were left to experts.

The Saturday garage was my where I learned everything mechanically about cars. All kinds of tools, the flange tool to make copper brake lines, replace shock absorbers, exhausts, finding out how the electrics work on a car, dismantling engines etc etc.


it goes on…


Tom the garage owner allowed me to drive all kinds of cars. I was welcome to borrow an old trade in such as an old Saab 96, the 2CV van, an old ratty Beetle (did not like that, too much noise, expensive on fuel) and of course various Volvo 144, 142, Amazon. Every Saturday the first and last thing to do at the garage was to drive out the cars onto the forecourt, and back inside at the end of the day. Most cars were Volvos, plus the more common cars (Opel, VW, Datsun, Toyota, etc). I loved moving the 12 cylinder Jaguar XJ, what a car! A big impression was made when we (Tom and me) were to pick up a Volvo from somewhere, taking the Range Rover and a trailer. I loved driving the Range Rover. High on the road, it leaned a bit in the corners, pretty fast, you felt like a king on the road. I promised myself I would own one someday (see later COAL…).


… and on


Those years (early / mid 80s), old cars were just old cars. Cars usually did not reach a 10th year because they were too rusted before that. At the Volvo specialist, seeing a car older than 12 years was rare. I remember a local Volvo Amazon, in for some brake work, which dated from 1962, so around 20 years old which was exceptional. My first “classic” car was just 13 years old at the time, this was seen as a very old car. Classic cars just did not exist, at least not visible on the street.

This gradually changed during the late eighties. More classic car clubs appeared, club magazines became more attractive with sharper pictures (using copy machines instead of stenciling). Being a club member was useful, knowledge about makes, types and spare parts was easily found. Remember the pre-internet years?


hope you are not bored yet


From 1982 until 1997 I only had classic cars, not wanting to pour money into depreciation-prone modern cars. The commuting distances were not too long, less than half an hour. My cars were parked on the street so I always had to monitor the rust would not become too severe. I did all the maintenance myself, the number of tools I own grew steadily during this period. Yearly trips were taken to a large swap meet in the UK (Beaulieu) where I would search for spare parts (list in hand showing the parts numbers).

When I started working for an IT company I was seconded to other companies. The commuting distances grew longer – sometimes very long. I had to select a brand new company lease car. A few years later I was working for another company and had to commute 200 kms (130 miles) total per day. Experiencing lots of traffic jams, I bought a 5 year old automatic. Since then, a “modern” always has been part of the household. My current “modern” is 19 years old but I have no reason yet to look out for a newer car. It has all the things I expect in a modern car – except maybe the fuel consumption.


last set of pictures


In the coming weeks, each COAL I will try to explain why I wanted that type of car, what was the attraction, what were my experiences and adventures with it. Next week I start off with a 10 year old car I bought when I just got my drivers license in 1982. It was very cheap because it was stolen / recovered (without its keys).