Not Classically Trained

Not Classically Trained

Ask any given petrol-head who has the best job in the world and the list of possible answers is predictably short. In fact, since infamous Lamborghini test driver and certifiable lunatic Valentino Balboni has now technically hung up his driving gloves, it’s down to either Jeremy Clarkson or the F1 driver with the prettiest girlfriend. And that’s usually Jenson Button.

Not a 1957 Mercedes 300SL

But if you do want to add another enviable soul to that list, you could do a lot worse than Ashley Webb. Although not a household name, Ashley is Assistant Editor of New Zealand Classic Car magazine and in order to make sure the May issue was not a series of blank pages, he decided it would be a good idea to drive a 1957 Mercedes 300SL and a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 from Christchurch to Queenstown. Apparently he even got paid to do this.

And it does seem like a fine way of spending your time; two of the great classic cars, some of the best driving roads in the world and a pay day at the end of it. Which sane person wouldn’t want to swap their 9 to 5 for a day or two in Mr Webb’s shoes?

Well, me actually.

While I would happily sit and gawp at the astonishing beauty of the Merc or Fezza all day long, actually getting behind the wheel of them may be a little overwhelming. My driving skills may not be quite ham-fisted enough to leave either as a permanent part of the scenery, but I’d still be too scared to do anything more than toddle gingerly from one bend to the next. And in cars with this much pedigree, that is as wrong as fancying your best mate’s grandmother.

Please don’t misunderstand; I simply adore these preserved, manicured classics, but the responsibility of caring for such a work of art would be too much for me. The esteem in which I hold the curators – ‘owners’ is simply too common a terminology – of such masterpieces is unparalleled and it is a position I know I will really never be suited to. As someone who considers a steak and cheese pie the pinnacle of man’s culinary achievements, my personal motoring dreams are decidedly more low rent.

And neither is this

While others crave the shiny, sleek and sexy, I find myself inexorably drawn to the used and abused. Certain cars are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them and some develop enough character after twenty years of wear and tear to make them irresistibly interesting.

It’s a condition I like to refer to as ‘one-downmanship’ and is one that requires a special commitment. While money is all that is needed to go out and buy a better, shinier car than the next man, doing the digging around necessary to turn up something cheap, usable and genuinely interesting demands a lot more outlay in terms of time and emotional investment.

And because these ‘banger classics’ can be driven without fear and require prep work no more strenuous than keeping the Mighty Murph wrappers down to a level where you can still physically get in, I genuinely believe they can bring just as much joy and colour to the motoring community as their more illustrious cousins.

So if the boys and girls at New Zealand Classic Car are ever searching for a volunteer to try out some budget alternatives around the South Island, then they need look no further than yours truly. Remarkables in a Riva? Bring it on. Dunedin in a dangerously dented Datsun? Fine by me. In the spirit of the original article, I’d even head to Queenstown in a Mercedes – although only if it’s a 190E with the oh-so-desirable blue velour upholstery.

Sure it may not be the pinnacle of glamour but hey, we can’t all be Ashley Webb.

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