Cars for Climbing

Over the coming months we explore the relationship that cars have in the mind of the climber; their use, their frustration, what they add and what they take away. More than just a review of each car it is a journey through half a life time of climbing. On the way we hope to shed some light on why the use of the car is now almost synonymous with a trip to the crag and we will even throw in a few technical details for the anoraks.

Fiat 128 Coupe 3P

Although not "my" first climbing car, since it belonged to one of the guys at the wall, it was the first car I used to go climbing in. At the time I was living in Chester and we all used to get bundled in and get taken to North Wales or the sandstone crags of North Cheshire.

Helsby and Frodsham is where I learned to climb. During the week I would go there with school (I had taken outdoor studies in preference to German). At the weekend I would go with the guys I had met at the wall. On a good week I would get 4 days a week, no wonder I felt strong when I was young.

It was the trips to Wales that I craved for, multi-pitch routes with no idea of what fear was, I just climbed anything I was told to or fell. If I seconded up something I would always get to the top; it was either get dragged up or be dropped. It was no prisoners with the guys from the wall.

The car was an elderly Fiat 128 Coupe 3P and it's most remarkable feature was a huge detachable vinyl roof which meant that even though the car had two tiny backseats it didn't feel to claustrophobic when it was open. Britain being Britain it stayed closed most of the time so it was like having a soggy wet bin bag on your head, but when it was nice the roof opened up like the millennium stadium. Even in drizzle it was alright as long as you were wearing your Peter Storm. Any discomfort was soon forgotten when racing through Clwyd with the stereo on full blast. It wasn't pretty but it was loud. When your a teenager into Dave lee Roth this was all you needed. A working tape player and crazy from the heat. (you can just hear that air guitar). If anything got you in the mood this was it, 4 guys a boot full of metal and a cassette full of rock

The car itself was front wheel drive had a 1100 engine with 65bhp, just enough to get up the pass, four up with gear. Apparently it was the first Fiat to have rack and pinion steering. All I can say about that was is that it appeared to go in the direction that it was pointed. It even won Car of the Year (not this one) when it came out in 1969. This one was navy blue and had dark leatherette seats, which meant that after a sweaty afternoon at PenTrwyn you would be faced with an interior as comfortable as a Brazilian rain forest. It used to go at a fair pace but I think like all climbing cars this is more to do with the lack of mechanical sympathy that climbers have. I prefer to see it more as the unique faith in mechanical engineering that we have to have. There was no space in the back and the guy from the wall was 6'2. Being the smallest I was always put behind him so I had even less space. But it didn't seem to matter once you cleared all the crap from the previous weekend as long as the stereo was on the time flew by.

What this car did more than anything was to give me 3 great summers where I didn’t have to worry about anything. All I had to do was earn what I could and then go climbing. Life was simple back then.