Wednesday 4 January 2012

Mr Reliable

A friend just told me that this beautiful Norton Commando is an unsuitable mount because it may be prone to breaking down. The comment came from a man who owns two Alfa Romeos, so one would presume he's  familiar with the shame of standing next to a stricken vehicle whilst those who chose more wisely swerve around you.

But since when has mundane, depressing reliability been such a virtue? If we're all striving for turn-key, fill-up, set-and-forget operation from our vehicles, why isn't the 2002 Toyota Camry the world's most desirable car?

People who ride or drive old stuff are pioneers and adventurers by nature. No one would remember Livingstone or Stanley if they journeyed to the heart of the Congo in air-conditioned comfort behind the wheel of a beige sedan. Manfully (or womanfully?) tackling adversity armed with nothing more than a shifting spanner and a can-do attitude develops our character. And often an odd limp.

The zen of breakdowns is the topic of a short column that will hopefully appear in print very shortly, accompanied by an excellent photo Dan took. We'll keep you posted.


  1. Fair enough, but for me, it's all about the actually driving/riding said vehicle, so reliability is something I welcome when it comes to enjoying my investment!

    Note - I'm not the friend with the two Alfas......

  2. I think the actual operation of the vehicle is only part of the experience... I like having my hands dirty, tinkering, modifying, maintaining as much as I like being out on the road. Breakdowns round out the "total" experience.

    I think owning old stuff is a very different mentality to owning new stuff. My car and bike are both over 40 years old, compared to your Falcon and GSX-R, which are both closer to 10.

  3. Very true. Which is why newer vehicles are my choice of transport. To go one step further, if I ever owned an old car, I'd do whatever I could to make it turn key reliable.

  4. Good plan - we don't purposely engineer failure in to our vehicles, but I think an owner of a classic needs to recognise that they can't expect 40+ year old parts and 40+ year old designs to behave like a 6 month old domestic appliance...

  5. It’s the old conundrum that affects us all. We want to buy transport, so we choose one of two options. Option one involves little initial outlay, and plenty of time tinkering by the side of the road, accompanied by profuse profanity. Option two involves spending more money initially, and spending more time piloting the thing with the occasional bought of spanner twirling, hopefully in the comfort of the garage where there are plenty of tools and a spouse to abuse when it all goes wrong; but also most importantly a bed to fall into when you’ve had enough, rather than a vinyl seat inside a car. Having done both, I have to say that standing at the side of the road with nothing more than a 13mm spanner will make you a more rounded individual, but it’s not my preferred option anymore. I’d rather tinker at home when I need to, and spend my time away from home driving my classic and enjoying it, rather than lying in a pool of oil underneath it, wishing I’d packed by five-eighths socket.

  6. I was merely suggesting that a Wes Cooley rep GS1000S Ice Cream Van was a far superior bike to a vibey, leaky old Norton haunted by Lucas, Prince of Darkness.
    Now if it was a Fastback 750 Commando instead of Mr. Bloatey the 850 Interstate, I could understand tolerating it's Nortonariety... and that is why I tolerate the Italian-ness of my Alfas as opposed to the same raft of issues that afflict Audis and Saabs of the same period - the Alfa is much prettier to look at and far more involving to drive...

    And Neeeeek - since when have you owned Imperial sockets?