EVER SINCE CARS have existed, owners have referred to them as female. Natural I suppose, as many blokes will admit to loving their car, spending too much money on it and the day when you part ways, even if you know it is for the best, can bring a tear to the eye.
Four weeks before starting our Irish adventure, I had no towcar, but fate intervened when a friend gave me his unwanted 1997 Volvo S40. No looker, but better than walking, accepting a free car was easier than trawling the classifieds. Cheaper too, but we both new it was a marriage of convenience.
Volvo is fast, thirsty and has a ride like a skateboard. Not bad for free though
Long-term readers may remember that I like Volvos anyway. Having taken a crusty 850 estate to Croatia last year, I know they're tough, reliable and solid with a caravan on the back. The MOT had just lapsed and the tax had days left to run. She was MOT'd and serviced for around £400 and that still made it a cheap car. Even the £200 for the towbar didn't seem too bad. It was an expensive start to our blossoming romance, but the early signs were good.
Last chance saloon
With 600 miles of towing under her fat tyres on this trip, its a good time to weigh up how good the S40 is. Lets get the positives out the way first. For an older lady, she is very smart. Volvos tend to have been looked after, and this one is no exception.
With 200bhp in a car weighing around 1380kg, she's pretty rapid. That's not a primary consideration when towing. After all, if you want to go fast, leave the caravan at home. Suffice to say, she has no problem motivating a 900kg Elddis. She's pretty plush too. A full electric pack, leather seats, cruise control, Alpine CD/tape player and air-con are all on-board, although the latter is doesn't seem to do anything other than turn on a light on the switch. It doesn't cool anything.
But that is the positives finished with. For a cheap ride, she is an expensive date. Group 36 insurance puts it in the same category as an Audi TT. Bit silly for a old man's car. Flipping open the fuel filler flap for the first time bought a surprise too. She drinks expensive super unleaded petrol. That's around 5p per litre dearer than the regular stuff. This wouldn't be so bad if she drank slowly. She doesn't. A quick brim-to-brim check against the odometer revealed that on the daily commute at home, she chucks back the juice at remarkable rate, doing just 23.6mpg. Towing, we've averaged 20.9mpg.
With the caravan in tow around Ireland, a few quirks have shown up. The ride quality is dire as the car is very firmly sprung, and it sits down at the back with the Elddis on the back too. On the plus side though, all that power means she strolls past slower traffic on fast roads and even overtaking the odd tractor on a back road is well within her grasp. Handy, as there are a lot of them over here. The car kept the Elddis in check at all speeds, in corners and under hard-braking. In fact for long runs, it is very relaxing. Providing you have a cushion to sit on.
Day 3 of our Irish adventure saw us moving from Dublin to Cork. A distance of around 160miles on the main roads, but Mrs D was keen we should travel through some interesting spots along the way, and that's exactly what we did. We avoided the motorway routes, opting instead to stick to the A-roads (N-roads here) and B-roads (R-roads). The highlight of the cross-country route was the stunning views at 'The Vee', aa awesome viewpoint in the Knockmealdown mountians on the R668 south of Clogheen, which was so quiet, we were able to stop the car and van for pictures and enjoy a cuppa with an incredible view.
Warning light is Volvo-speak for 'I want posher petrol, please'
One thing I've learned on this trip is that super unleaded doesn't really exist in Ireland. As a result, the car is on a diet, and she's not very happy about it. A warning light on the dashboard reminds me she is undernourished, and every so often, when your mind is elsewhere, she cuts out altogether when approaching a junction or roundabout. Just a little dig in the ribs, to remind you you're still in trouble, even though you'd forgotten about it. There is something very 'Mrs Donnelly' about that.
With over 500 miles of towing so far under her belt and at least double that to go, the old girl has been diverting company. Maybe not marriage material, or even a long-term romance, but for a holiday fling, our fast lady has been worth every penny.
To see the other 'Eire on a Shoestring' blogs, click here