Cars for Climbing

Part 2 in a series of articles in which 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. It is a journey through half a life time of climbing that sheds some light on why the use of the car is now almost synonymous with a trip to the crag. There are even a few technical details for the anoraks.

Citroen AX 11TRE

This was and still is the ultimate in French engineering, forget the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. How anything with 55bhp can travel at the speeds it did with 4 people and a load of metal in the boot, defies all physical laws. That is until you get a replacement windscreen and get told that the strongest bit of the car is the windscreen. When the screen is out you grab hold of the roof and flex it like it's made from plastic. Forget NCAP testing, make cars out of cardboard. That will start to focus a few minds on the driving. It was front wheel drive, very light and had a great little engine. After I got used to it the gearbox was pretty sweet as well. It lurched round corners a bit, but it never slipped of the road. Apart from on a rain soaked roundabout, full to the brim with my girlfriends college stuff. But a couple of loops and mounting the pavement didn't seem to hurt it. More than anything this car gave freedom.

At the age of 17 my parents announced that my dad had to relocate. The company he worked for were closing down the plant in Widnes, and he had to go to the new one in Meldrith. (about 5 miles south of Cambridge). We would be living in a place called Waterbeach, just for the record there's no water and no beach, most of all no climbing. Situated at the start of the fens, all you see is fuck all. Of all the places in the UK for a climber to live, East Anglia is the worst. There is no climbing. So after 12 or so months being a thoroughly pissed off climber, having to make long hitches or coach journeys to meet up with old climbing buddies. I got a job in a climbing shop which as I was still living at home, gave me money for a car. The car was white, which I wasn't sure about at first but after seeing a picture of Patrick Edlinger sitting on the back of a 10E version, it had to be cool. It was easy to park, the non power steering was just training and the car didn't drink any petrol. At a time when all I wanted to do was leave work as early a possible, get in the car and go climbing while spending as little money as possible. This was the car.

Ax picAx pic

I had the car for 8 years, and when eventually my uncle drove it away for my cousin it had nearly 130000 climbing miles on it. Up to Scotland, down to Cornwall and every other weekend to Wales. 1up, 4up it didn't matter. Apart from a head gasket at about 90k, it kept on going. It's the car that taught me how to drive, give plenty of space and don't go round corners to quickly or you fall off. But most importantly if there is a T5, M5, or V6 behind you, move over. It was quick but not that quick.

What I liked most about the car was that it just seemed to cope with everything. 8 up, down the pass giving some hitcher's a lift, to stuffing big surfski's in the back at Penzance. Even cruising through London with the Rebel MC blasting out. At this stage in my life there was my car and me, I am sure there are scores of adolescent men now, driving their Corsa's and C2's who think of nothing else but their cars. In the company I have just left, one of the young lads who worked in accounts must of loved his car. It was spotless, not a speck anywhere. I never had these sorts of obsessions but I can say that I loved my car for what it gave me.

Freedom is an odd word, it means so much in times such as this. Freedom from oppression, freedom of speech. But freedom is what it gave me. I was free to do what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, this wasn't something that I abused I have been lucky enough to have parents that taught me to understand this, and as long as I respected them and their views they let me go. As so very often happens, if they had held on tighter they would of lost grip. They knew I would always come back. But if I had not had the AX in those dark days in East Anglia I would of gone, or at worst gone mad. If there is one thing that flatness gives you, it's an appreciation for the spikey stuff.