My Top 5 – The Ones That Got Away

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A while ago I posted about a particular car I used to own that I have stopped missing and more recently, I had to part ways with another car I really didn’t want to sell and it got me thinking about all the cars I have owned over the years and which ones I really wish I’d kept and still had now. After a drawing up the list of the 22 cars that have helped me get into all sorts of financial and personal problems, I finally made a list of my “Top 5” – now these aren’t necessarily cars I wish I had never sold, but ones I definitely wish I had now, even if it meant having them locked away in a barn somewhere!

5 – 2007 Land Rover Discovery 3 HSE 2.7 TDV6

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the Disco 3 in its natural habitat…

Picking number 5 was tricky as there were a few candidates, but after thinking long and hard for a while, I settled on my recently sold Discovery 3. The Disco 3 was a car I wanted for a long long time. Back when my mother bought her L322 Range Rover Vogue I thought she bought the wrong car as the list of regular and common faults on the Vogue was long and well publicised, little did I know back then that the Discovery 3 really wasn’t much better. I had a love/hate relationship with this car pretty much from the start. Soon after trading in my low mileage, much economical and reliable Freelander 2, the issues started to creep out of the woodwork. This aside, I still love the Discovery. I don’t think I have ever spent so much money on maintenance in such a short space of time (around £3,000 in just over 6 months!!!) but I still look back at my ownership experience with such fondness. I think it was the way the car was so reassuring on the road. You felt like nothing could hurt you and when you took it off road, it made you feel like an absolute hero – it seemed impossible to get stuck! Since buying the Discovery, I have driven the Discovery 4, 5 and Range Rover Vogue on and off road and even though they all felt a lot more polished, they all lacked that feel behind the wheel that older Discoverys have. I will probably regret selling this car for a while, right up until I buy something similar again and quickly remember why I got rid in the first place…

4 – 2002 R53 Mini Cooper S 1.6

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You’ll probably start to notice a trend here – it seems the less reliable a car is, the more I love it! Back when my girlfriend first moved in with me, I had my CL500 but she needed a car and there was no way my insurance would let her anywhere the Mercedes, so I used this as an excuse to get a car I had been pining for for years. I have no problems admitting I have a serious thing for Minis, I always have and probably always will, I just can’t get enough of the theatre that comes along with driving them. The Mini Cooper S definitely is not the best supermini out there and neither is it the quickest, but for me, it was the one I had to have. The way you had that awesome supercharger whine at the front as your sent it on the back roads followed by the pops and crackles on lift-off. This coupled with a wheel in each corner meant it was just a hoot to drive and it begged to be driven hard. The downside of this was some typical and common cost-cutting from the factory in the era it was built. BMW decided to use inferior cooling fans and relays on the R53 model which meant there was always a risk of the dreaded head-gasket going. I tried to combat this issue by buying a super low mileage example with a full main dealer history… As you can probably guess, things didn’t go my way and after just 6 months of ownership, it went. After a hefty engine rebuild bill I decided to cut my losses and sell the little pocket rocket and even though there was a lot of bad blood between me and the car back then, I really miss the little pocket rocket. Especially on those crisp sunny mornings when the temperature is just right and the back roads of Cambridgeshire are clear…

3 – 1989 Jaguar Sovereign 2.9

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This is a bit of a strange one as I only paid £800 for it from my local mechanic. I think I was 20 years old when I bought this barge. I had been living in Bournemouth and driving a knackered 1994 Renault Clio (mk1 phase 2 1.3) and after deciding to pack up and move back to Cambridgeshire, thought it was best to rid myself of the burden that was the Renault – the only problem was I didn’t have much money and I was temping on a pretty low weekly wage. I had to get a few a bits done to the Clio before I could sell it and I got chatting to the garage owner who told me about the Jag and how he was going to sell it. I had to have it. At 5 meters long, it’s one of biggest cars I have ever owned and it must have weighed around 2 tonnes. I remember this car so fondly, and I still think that out of all the cars I have had, it is one of, if not, the coolest. It was so leftfield of the cars I had before and so unconventional, I just loved it. It was a great conversation car too among my friends. They were all still driving about in their first cars, little hatchbacks their parents had bought for them and there I was in this 20-year-old lump of poorly built British engineering. It had so many niggles and faults it was comical. It had a digital dashboard that displayed all the vitals like engine temp, oil temp, fuel level etc that only worked in the dry and the fuel gauge was so random it wasn’t worth checking – I would just brim it everytime I finished a long drive to make sure… That was the biggest issue for whilst owning it. As I said before, I had just moved back home and didn’t have much money and I was working for a weekly wage that barely covered the £100 a week fuel costs and ridiculous insurance, but I just didn’t care. I felt like I was in The Long Good Friday everywhere I went. Even though it had possibly one of the worst engines to ever come out off the assembly line in Coventry (a SOHC 2.9 straight 6 with a mere 165bhp when new), it had a straight through stainless exhaust system, so when you booted it and it kicked down a gear or 2, it sounded fantastic! Just like all Jags should! Not a loud chavvy shout, more of a deep and powerful (and very ironic) growl. There are a couple of reasons I miss this car, the main one being whenever I see one I remember how much fun it was wafting around town in and secondly, there just aren’t that many about anymore, and the ones that are that are clean (despite the mileage on mine, its previous owner had spared no expense making sure it was always in tip-top condition) are now shooting up in value as future classics! Unfortunately, this one met an untimely demise after a late night drive home on cold icy roads as it is still the only car *touch wood* that I have crashed. Sideway. Into a tree. On a village green…

2 – 1989 VW Corrado 2.0 16v

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When I crashed the Jag, I ended up selling it to a builder who was installing some decking at my parents’ house and I needed to get another car ASAP. I really wanted a Golf GTi and wasn’t really fussed about which mark or condition etc but my search was pretty fruitless and insurance companies really didn’t want to know anyway so I ended up settling for the next best thing, a 2001 VW Bora with the 2.0 8v petrol engine in. Quite possibly one of my dullest purchases. I tried to turn it into something cooler by going down the modification route, but I was young and naive and ended up lowering it too much and smashing the engine block in half on a level crossing. One new engine later and it was up for sale or swaps on the local VW forums. Fortunately for me, I knew a guy who was looking for a boring sensible VW for him and his family and he happened to have a rather tasty Nugget Yellow VW Corrado. After a couple of viewings, the deal was done and we swapped cars. This Corrado was probably the car that helped set me off on my journey with car ownership – even though I had already had many cars before it, this is the one that got me going to more meets and shows and also got me taking stuff apart and learning more about how to maintain and fix a lot of bits on my drive. Admittedly the Bora probably deserves more credit for this, but I probably spent more time underneath the Corrado than the Bora. It was bright Nugget Yellow and had polished Porsche 928 wheels on paired with some lowering shocks and springs and I thought it looked the part (I still do) and it had also had an engine change at some point in its life from the original 16v 1.8 to much better 16v 2.0 ABF unit from the Mk3 Golf GTi. It felt like a rocket even though in reality it probably wasn’t that quick at all – but it did sound it! Owning an older car like this was a great learning curve for me as whenever things went wrong with my cars in the past, they would get booked into a garage and I would just take whatever they said as gospel and pay the bill. However, with the Corrado, everything was a lot more accessible and easier to fix myself so I learned all about changing the brakes, repairing faulty electric windows and a load of other stuff that inevitably goes wrong on a 20-year-old car with over 180,000 miles on the clock! It’s also the car I had when I made a lot of friends in the car community (it was all the VW community back then, but everyone seems to have moved on into all sorts) and a lot of the people I met and got know back then in those freezing cold car park meets on Friday nights, are still very good friends now. Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to the Corrado not long after I bought it as I was doing a lot of miles for my commute and the car was starting to take a bit of a beating over the winter so I sold it someone who wanted to take it off the road for a bit and show it the love it deserved for the next “show season”. Like the Sovereign, these are becoming less and less common and prices are creeping up, so if I’m ever in the position to buy another one, I’d love to, just to have and love and watch appreciate in value.

1 – 2003 Mercedes CL500 5.0

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This probably comes as no surprise as I have already done another piece on this car and if you follow me on Instagram (instagram.com/welldriven) you will see this appear quite a bit on those nostalgic #throwbackthursdays. As I said in my previous article (here), I bought this car because I wanted one when I was about 11 years old and then I hit 21 and could afford it. It is still the most satisfying car purchase I have ever made and the car I have the fondest memories of. It was the first (and only) car I won an award with at a modified car show, it’s the only car I’ve driven around the Nurburgring and it’s also the car that brought my girlfriend back from Italy to our first place together in England. It also never went wrong. Given that the W215 had a terrible reputation for dodgy electrics and costly suspension issues, mine was spot on. It had one crank position sensor failure and one flat tyre in over 35,000 miles of driving. This makes it the second my reliable car I have ever owned (next to my 2009 BMW 118d) and if you break down the cost of ownership over a set period of time, probably one of the most economical ones. It was awesome. Every time I drove it, I felt like the boss. 5 meters long, big comfy perforated and heated leather seats and a rumbling 5 litre V8 under the bonnet. It was the car that I have never been able to replace. I get attached to all my cars, even the rubbish ones, but I have never had a car that I looked back when I walked away as much as the CL500. Especially when it was running the Rotiform BLQ wheels and silly lowered air suspension…

It’s writing pieces like this that reinforce my love for cars and everything that goes on around them. For every car I have owned, there is a string of stories and memories to accompany them. Some good, some bad, but all of them relevant. I’ve met some amazing people and made some life-long friends around cars. Meeting people who share the same passion as you gives you such a great feeling. A feeling I hope keeps coming back as time progresses and as Well Driven grows.

Words – James Ford, featured image – Antony Edwards, all other images – James Ford

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James Ford is a UK-based automotive journalist and enthusiast who has been working with and writing about cars for many years. With a focus on luxury, prestige and super cars as well as a keen eye on classics, James reaches tens of thousands of four-wheel fans through his mix of social photography, videos and longer-form journalism. Over the years, James has tested and written about many brands like Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, Tesla, Mercedes Benz to name a few.

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