3 Sept 2013

The Plater's Blog - lost keys, turbo-diesels and thrashing a BMW M3

Mike Trowsdale is a plater* and as such gets to drive many and varied cars at short notice. Here are more of his cuttingly incisive, and frequently funny, thoughts on a variety of recent cars.

I would say it could only ever happen in the motor trade, but my qualification from the school of “never did really find a true career path” (Hons) tells me otherwise - this kind of “misinformation error” (f**k up) happens a million times a day.

Colleague rocked up at a certain regular pick up spot in sunny GU15 and requested access to a car via the traditional means of the registration number and vehicular description. Now on this occasion - unusually - hand scribed documentation suggested that the keys were not in the car. No problem - time proven, watertight security procedures were deployed and Plan B triggered: well practised rummaging through the weapons grade, industrial sized margarine tub full of spectacularly poorly labelled keys. Result: two sets of keys, and go find in that general direction. Well, one car responded and it met the “right” description - no worries - and found it’s way the next day to Plymouth. About 100 miles from where it should have been. Apparently some minor detail about the wrong registration…Oops.

Now I just happened to be in the canteen two days later when another Plater announced someone had taken “his” car two days prior and he had been in a spot of bother. Luckily he is a confident lad, and on the day persuaded the controllers to organise his safe journey home. I can see the issue from all (4!) sides, but at the end of the day my Dad was a ‘70’s union rebel so Platers unite! Daft mistake and I hope it’s reconciled - would wipe out a days work if rules are enforced. I can confess to checking I am putting the right fuel (diesel/petrol) into “my” car 3 times before I pull the trigger…tough times.

Back to cars and a sad confession: my sister actually labelled me dull as a young teen when – apparently – I only expressed interest in anything (whatever…) when Dad’s car was reversed out of the garage. Now to be fair it was a Saab 99 2.0L (“NYN 417L” – still around?) in a winning hue of yellow on green, um, kind of nylon stuff. And she didn’t get Status Quo… anyway what’s not to like when Mum’s car (Austin 1300) has 55bhp and Dad’s has got 100?! Fond memories of Stig Blomqvist style heroic understeering pointing way (!) inside the apex – yes aim for that scarecrow – and it will go sufficiently wide on it’s 155’s…it actually was a method of attack recommended by Autocar (or Motor ?). No doubt Pa never tried to tangle with Stig and I only ever cracked a rear light lens – at about 2mph outside a pub in St Albans…

And back then I never thought I could possibly get bored of cars: they somehow defined a rite of passage to being an adult and were just the best thing ever...

But a few (!) years on, getting bored of my diet of Zafiras and Qashqais and in the main turbo diesels: mid range torque might do a mini cabber, but not revving beyond 4,500 without gasping for another Winston is no fun. Give me VVTi, VTEC, Twin Cam, Twin Carb (even SU’s), Six Pack, “442” - gone all Yank - Quattrovalvole, HiPo, Port Injection, Hemi – there we go again – Sprint (Dolly – had one), 16v, 24v, Sti, FQ, GTi, GTE, GTV you name it; just something that suggests might be a bit fun. Ten years on we will wonder what all the “blue” stuff was about (Merc/VAG…). Anyone remember the Polo “Formel E” – a fuel economy special with a jolly tall top (4th!) gear, “spoilers” on the “a” pillars and some kind of stop/start? Probably now a - very - minor classic. And Nissan take Note – VW did that shape on a small car 25 years ago…

And so you wonder if – in the ultimate scheme of things – Plating is a training ground for cabbies? Find/save/steal – the latter not recommended - £1,000 to buy a VAG turbo diesel and do a very similar job without the walking, pack on a couple of stones and earn 2-3 times the money! OK you also need £300 for your PCO licence but it should be a no brainer. But as a Plater your aspirations are way beyond that, or you are OK with your lot for now: time out, less stress (?!), being your own boss (really not..) and all the other stuff they suggest to justify the rather poor money to personally look after £50k-£150k of cars every week.

But all good things come to those who are stupid/savvy enough to wait and mine came in the form of an M3 (E92). Now for the average guy I have been there, driven it: Bugatti EB110 GT? Done it. Dodge Viper? Yep. 458 Italia? Just 200 miles. Countach? Which one? ‘Cuda 440? Owned one. Not the point on this day - I knew the job was a good ‘un (London to Bristol, 120m) and I knew it was a BMW as I had to rendezvous with an Inspector of said M√ľncheners (the coolest man in the world; company fleece in 80F…). But Plater priorities are job first (miles!), a quick hook up with the next job and all else a distant third (tho’ getting home is always good…). And so I idly passed the time on the tube checking “vehicle details” on my PDA style able assistant and couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Rushed the “appraisal” – inspector had already done the official version – and fired up…”nice”.

Not quite my old ‘Cuda on headers and cherry bombs but a V8 is always to die for and this one absolutely stinks of motorsport provenance . Now the owner had to escort me to the exit to exchange pleasantries with the barrier and so I forcibly submerged into a zone of intense concentration - so non Plater - to avoid the slightest embarrassment; I have driven M3’s before – plus a few other decent steers (did I mention that?) - but I feared my recent diet of mundanity might have blunted my cutting edge as a professional helmsman. 

Luckily “customer” was human and realised I was too and so a bit of chat and clutch slipping saw us right. Job done and - now ex - owner walked away only to about turn and tap on the window. Loose change (unlikely)? Gym membership card? MP3? Err, no - might I please give it a damn good spanking – if safe to do so – through the tunnel to the lights for old times sake. Anti social? Yes. Irresponsible? Arguably. And illegal? Without a doubt (and that’s in 1st). And without question the most unlikely – and fantastic – suggestion someone has ever proffered me about their ex. And as motor trade employees are advised on a crushingly dull and regular basis the customer is always right. 

I digress - I rumbled out of the car park, let a cabbie go by, turned left onto the entirely straight strip of tarmac, got to 10mph, checked everything possible – and impossible - and let rip. DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME!! F***ing awesome and all of the above – I did clock a disapproving/shocked/is the tunnel collapsing (?) face. And if I did just suggest that 8,000rpm+ in a M3 V8 thro’ a tunnel was rather splendid I fear I might be underselling it a tiny bit: I think Apocalyptic is about right. Most definitely filed under “rude not to…” along with 6,000rpm in a Griff 500 thro’ the Hatfield tunnel quite a few years ago. And I suspect rather more than a thin smile played across our customer’s face. Job done.

*Plater - self employed guys armed with "trade plates" that enable them to collect and deliver cars from one place of business to another to grease the wheels of the UK motor trade. Open to all ages, typically from 23-70 the job specification requires a full UK licence (no more than 6 points), a reasonable command of the Queen's English spoken and written, the ability to loosely hang a tie round your neck and a clean - self funded - CRB if you manage to last two months.

Many thanks to Mike. You'll find his previous column here