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Alwyn Brice reckons nostalgia isn't what is used to be - in Issue 62 (May 1994) recalls a lost..love?

NOSTALGIA - THAT SIMCA AIN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE!

NOSTALGIA, OR SO they say, ain't what it used to be. And possibly nowhere is this more true than in the world of old cars.

If you own one or more classics, you'll know exactly what I mean. Attend a show and along comes Percival Public. You know the chap; he's always there, rootling around the jumble stands pausing only to express disbelief at the price of a brochure or the cost of a gasket set for an Austin Allegro.

When he's finished his rounds and has come away after a spot of haggling which has involved getting a cactus plant and a pot of home-made marmalade half-price (perhaps some sage reader can enlighten me as to why the cactus and marmalade are indispensable to car shows and jumbles), he'll saunter over toward the gleaming flanks of the sundry vehicles which are lined up awaiting the judges' attentions.

"Ah, I used to have one of those."

Yes, the opening gambit which is hard to resist if you're sitting near, standing by or grovelling under your pride and joy.

"Yes, quite a character she was too."

And, because you're human as well as a tad curious, you reply and elicit some worthless information from the old codger.

STORIES LIKE THESE, LOADS OF CLASSIFIED ADS, THE BEST DIARY AND NEWS AROUND; YOU'LL FIND IT ALL IN EVERY ISSUE OF CLASSIC MOTOR MONTHLY; TO RETURN TO OUR HOMEPAGE CLICK HERE.

What he says probably doesn't have much bearing on your car thirty or forty years on - or does it?

We all grow misty-eyed; it's a fact. You doubtless remember what car you learned to drive in and your very first car will always live in your memory. But if you consider what you had twenty years ago, you may well wonder if you'd want it now...

I passed my test in 1973 and my first car was a Simca 1000 GLS (mistake number one). The GLS signified something - but what I couldn't say. Four seaters were the order of the day, then, because you needed the back seat as storage space for the cartridges belonging to the in-car hi-fi.

It was actually a toss-up between that and a Mk1 Escort in bright yellow. The Ford was a bit dearer, the Simca quite smart in metallic gold (mistake number two) with its imitation wood dash. I plumped for French chic and £675 changed hands - and within two weeks it was back in the garage having an oil seal replaced (thankfully under the guarantee). The guarantee (a three month special) revolved around the obligation of putting some red syrup into the engine every oil change; I've still got a bottle in the garage. Goodness knows what it contains but it must be worth a bit as a collector's item, I shouldn't wonder.

Now you'd be forgiven for not being au fait with these little Simcas. I scarcely ever saw another in the two years I had it. It was instantly forgettable in its boxiness, its sluggish acceleration (it was quicker to pick it up, tuck it under your armpit and run with it) and its wallowy ride. But it had a radio, which worked, and it was pretty reliable although the double-skinned bodywork soon developed tinworm infestation and matching up metallic gold proved less than easy.

But what really got to me was that in those heady mid-seventies, real credibility came with decking out your car with accessories. So what's changed? I hear you ask. Trouble was - there were no after-market goodies for Simcas. Escorts, Minis, no problem - but Simcas? Forget it. This led me to the purchase of some hairy white rugs which doubled as seat covers (wild!) and some snazzy carpet, the offcuts from the new lounge carpet. Looking back, the car would have been quite at home with a soul brother in Harlem.

I admit it, the rugs didn't really do much for the car. My boost came from the photo of a Simca Ralleye in the frontispiece of the Haynes Workshop manual; these were, apparently, quite potent beasts but I never saw one burn up a Cooper at the lights in the local town. Come to think of it, I never saw a Simca burn up anything on four wheels...

My love affair with the Simca lasted just on two years. We got through a brace of winters with its pitiful heater (rear-engined, you see), had a embarrassing a few seconds of Torvill and Dean on an icy roundabout in Bedford one morning and only ever bought tyres and an exhaust. Oh, yes, and a thermostat which, after much wrestling, I managed to fit in the coolant pipe only to burr off the housing bolts in the process (no box spanner set); then I found that I'd fitted it upside down...

The other irritating thing was its propensity to leak. I managed to find the fault eventually, but only after stripping out all the carpets and seats and commuting to work in a buzz box for a week.

But it gave me freedom - and my first girlfriend who seemed to like its cosy interior in the witching hours. Me? I couldn't understand it; whenever I went to the local Rugby Club disco, I used to look longingly at the lads who came out at midnight and jumped into their soft tops with a girl in tow. I was actually able to achieve that particular dream the following year when I had an MG Midget - but the subsequent drive home gave me a sore throat for the rest of that week. The Midget, though, that's another story.

I did see a 1000 a couple of summers ago in a show - but I didn't linger lovingly over it...

Alwyn Brice

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