What does your first car say about you?
A Volkswagen Polo? Poor man’s Golf, tbf
Now you’re older, you like to reflect on youth.
And after some contemplation, you realise that 17 was the biggie. The turning point; the gamechanger. No one waits til they’re 18 to start boozing; you got a lottery ticket for your 16th and then never played again; 21 is only relevant if you’re American. But at 17, you can drive, and for you, driving meant freedom: to get to parties, to get off with people, and then to drive home really slowly the next day, while one of your mates moaned audibly in the back seat and tried not to throw up down the sleeve of their jacket.
You never “made a date” for Top Gear, but you cared about your car: it was the first big, brash signifier of adulthood. Having a shit car was better than having no car; but it wasn’t much better. If you looked cooler getting the night bus, then it definitely wasn’t worth the money your parents (barely) spent on it. And you know it’s spoiled and entitled, but your heart sank when you saw what they’d got you.
This is what your first car says about you.
It’s black, square, simple. Neither too big nor too small. A decent-sized hatchback. These are all the things that make the Golf the most sleek, “mature” first car out there. If the windows were blacked out people would think you were doing alright for yourself; perhaps they thought you owned a house, and a dog, and went on weekends away. They certainly wouldn’t think you were on your way to sit an AS Sociology exam.
A poor man’s version of the Golf. Literally – your parents couldn’t afford the better version. When you drive it now, people still think you are on your way to sit an AS Sociology exam.
Your parents got you a Fiat Punto for your 17th birthday, anticipating the moment when you passed your test. It was kind and – in retrospect – ambitious of them. You flunked, several times. The Fiat Punto is the car for someone who never passes their test.
There are two types of Land Rover owners. The first – a dying minority – are the polished, MIC-types. Theirs are city Landys – blacked-out windows, sides as sleek as their sculpted, Kensington bodies. The true Landy owner, though, is the one who jovially tells you that they’ve been “driving since they could reach the pedals”, who grew up in the country (Gloucestershire, or Wiltshire) and has a working knowledge of the back-end of a cow. They can fix their Landy when it breaks down; they are hale and hearty and don’t mind mud.
You were definitely the weedy, wheedling member of your friendship group. Yeah, you’ve got a car and yeah, that’s swell. But a Ford KA is as weedy as you are. It says: yeah, I’m here; yeah, I’ll get you from A to B; yeah, I’m really great for squeezing unnoticed into parking spaces; and yeah, I’ll look like a bit of a virgin until late into my twenties.
You were a private school girl. On your 17th, it sat in the driveway wrapped in a big bow that Mum got from Clinton’s. Extra marks if you had one of the ones with the soft top. You’d go to the drive-through at McDonald’s at lunchtime with the boys in the year above – long, highlighted hair flicking out of the rolled-down windows – and come back just before the bell rang, and all the other girls would be really jealous because you had – yet – another way to curry favour with guys.
You had a two-letter nickname. When you approached your “boys”, you were greeted by “yo, HJ!” or – if you’re really posh, it may even be three due to that double-barrel: “HPJ, what’s up?!” You used your Audi A3 to drive Millie and Camille around, and to do runs to the country on Friday evening, after you’d finished last period at your west London day school.
You’ve heard the joke: specifically, that there are two types of people who drive a Nissan Micra. Who? Students and pensioners. Yeah, yeah. And sure – your mates ripped you for having a car popular in the 90s. But you loved those retro features: a sunroof that you have to open manually, doors you must lock from the inside. You’re confident, you’re sure of yourself, you’re OK with who you are. Just like your timeless car, which transcends decades, OK?
You called it the pussay wagon.
Congratulations, you own a car. You passed your test the second time, because that’s the average. You drove it to school where you picked up two Bs and a C, because that’s the average. You then lost your virginity age 17, because that’s the average. You drive a Ford Fiesta, because you are average.
You called it a “Cinquecento”. On your 17th, all your friends came round to coo over it. “Oh my god, it looks sooooo nice in cream – I love your personalised number plate!”. You wore diamante-toed Adidas Superstars; you really, really liked Bruno Mars. You wanted a small dog. It’s fine that you picked the 500: it’s vintage and stylish. It matches the cream jacket your dad bought you.
You shared it with your mum. It looks like a sportscar at a very cursory glance. However, when the novelty of a soft-top roof wore off then nobody wanted to ride with you. And you could only take one passenger. It was usually your mum.
A real old banger
Your parents kept banging on about how much your insurance was going to be, but – thank god – they found a solution which meant you didn’t have to cough up two grand: a car older than you. It didn’t have power steering, the indicators were on the blink and it probably even had a double clutch. It took you a whole year of driving to work out how to do a hill start in the death trap, and all your mates made bets about how many times it would break down with you in it. It smelt a bit musty – many previous owners smoked their lives away in there – but you loved it nonetheless. It probably wasn’t going to get nicked, it didn’t go very fast, but it never did you wrong.
You don’t have to pay road tax because of the low emissions, the paint work shows on the inside, sometimes the boot rattles for no reason, but overall it’s a pretty solid first car. If you passed when you were 17 then this was the car you wanted, instead of a Ka. You aren’t quite a country person, nor a city person – the Peugeot is a solidly suburban car. It’s designed for short trips to and from school and, when you needed to get everyone into town for a night out, you stuffed three mates in the back two seats and had the middle one duck when the police go past. Just don’t try and go up a steep incline in third.
Audi A1 with a personalised numberplate
You named it after your horse, didn’t you Abby?
You got this second hand from an advert in the local paper, or Gumtree. “A car is just a way of getting from “A to B,” you say, superior and defensive. You have to say it every time you give anyone a lift because it takes at least two tries to get the engine started.
You never got a first car
It’s not because your parents can’t afford one, they can, they even offered to buy one. It’s not because you have environmental concerns, you don’t, you’re not that lame. It’s not because you’re convinced driverless cars are the future, you’re not, even if they probably are. It’s because you live in London, and even though it’s fucking terrifying and fucking gross, the bus, the Tube and the night bus will get you where you need to go.