AutoMemory #7: Ford Sierra C634TFP

AFTER the disappointment of the Nissan Cherry Europe, our next car was a rather more conventional choice. The Sierra 1.8L in glorious Rosso Red was acquired in May 1989. More space, five doors, power steering – and we even got £1,000 in part exchange for the wretched Nissan.

sierraUnfortunately this photo doesn’t show a glorious Rosso Red specimen owing to my failure to find the picture I wanted in our pre-digital collection. (There is one, somewhere, showing C634TFP on a caravan site in Newquay, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.)

Dubbed “the flying jelly mould” by some (whether affectionately or disparagingly I’m not sure), the Sierra was Ford’s bold replacement for the near-legendary Cortina, and would itself be replaced by the Mondeo. It was a great family car for us, although I craved a sunroof (there also not being any air conditioning).

Being somewhat larger than the Nissan, it was a tight squeeze in our garage. So much so that we took to parking as close as possible to the right-hand wall, squeezing across the central console and getting out the passenger door.


The Jelly Mould carried first one newborn baby and then a second (both ours, I should add), taking us on family trips and the daily commute for about seven years. It was pranged twice, most memorably as we left Gordano Services on the M5 in 1996. We were on our way to Cornwall and were waiting at the exit roundabout from the services car park. A coach behind us, also waiting, obviously decided that we were about to move off (probably watching the traffic on the roundabout rather than watching us), and promptly ran into the back of us.

I was shocked.

I’d never been rear-ended before, either when moving or, as in this case, at a standstill. It was clearly the coach driver’s fault so we did the usual swapping of details and then tried to figure out what to do. There was a nice crease in the middle of the back end and the boot wouldn’t shut properly. We managed to get the boot tied down and decided to continue to our destination, St Ives Holiday Village.

After unloading the car we backed it up against a hedge as it seemed to be the only way to stop someone opening the boot! The next day we found a garage in Hayle who were able to do a “good enough” repair on the boot lock and the bodywork. Until recently I had a photo of the damaged boot but have again lost or culled it.

After the holiday the insurance company sent an assessor and decided the car was a write-off, simply because the repairs would cost more than the resale value. They sent us a cheque for £900 but also said we could keep the car, which was perfectly driveable. This slightly odd written-off-but-not-scrapped state of affairs went on for another few months before we decided to retire the 12-year-old Sierra before it got too troublesome.

Do you have any Sierra memories? Clearly Peter Kay did, in this 2009 clip


Complacency in the outside lane: My almost-collision on the M25


Brake lights.



Brake! Brake! Brake more! Harder! How can this be happening?

50, 40, 30, 20

Not enough. More! Not too much! Don't skid! Don't hit him! Still closing!

What's behind? No time. Survived. Fifth to second. 70 to 10 in no time at all.

Oh. My. Word.

Thank you Jesus. Didn't rear-end the Toyota. Didn't get crunched by the whatever-it-was behind.

Back to normal. Back to the middle lane. Grateful. Realising.

Back off. Avoid this.

It was the M25 on a Sunday afternoon. Heavy traffic from junction 10 to Heathrow and beyond. Variable speed limits. 60. 40. “Queue Caution”. 50. 40. 40 seems to be the lowest number the signs can display, even when you can't do more than 30. Finally we're out of the variable speed limit. We pass the junction with the M4. Into the outside lane. Finally we're moving properly.

I know the 2-second rule. You should keep a 2-second gap between you and the car in front. At motorway speeds, less than that is dangerous. Less than that and the equations start to look dodgy. How fast is the vehicle in front decelerating? How good are your reaction times? How good are your brakes? And if you can slow down fast enough, what about the vehicle behind you? And the vehicle behind that one? And…

So I know the rule. But I broke it. And, thinking about it now, not for the first time. Me and about 60% of all drivers, it seems. You just watch next time you're on the motorway. The middle and outside lanes are full of cars breaking The Rule. And most of the time they – we – get away with it.

Until they don't. At which time, they crash. Because the guy in front braked hard and the guy behind couldn't brake hard enough.

This time the equations worked for me – just. I was shocked but able to react fast enough. I knew I had to brake hard but was able to avoid locking the wheels. My brakes were good enough. And I really think the Lord himself spared us a nasty accident.

In our era of quiet engines, crumple zones, airbags and ABS I think we're lulled into a false sense of security in our cars. We assume we won't crash sitting 20 yards behind another car at 70mph. Or that if we do, it won't be that bad. But we're wrong. And I have just had a motoring wake-up call.

Let's face it: If we're going to hurtle around in tin boxes running on four bits of rubber we really ought to assume it's inherently dangerous. The fact that I've not been able to drive at the speed I'd like for a few miles doesn't change that. If I can't drive at 70mph without that 2-second gap in front, I shouldn't be driving at 70mph. The only reason I'll happily preach this is because I just came perilously close to learning it the hard way. The very hard way.

Here's a bit of perspective: My journey, without all those other pesky cars, could be done in about 2 hours 30 minutes. As it was, the sheer number of people inconsiderately wanting to use the M25 at the same time as me meant the journey was about 20 minutes longer. On that near-disastrous spell in the outside lane when I was pushing along at 70mph, 5 minutes doing 65mph instead would have lengthened my journey by less than one minute.

So – don't do what I did; don't get complacent in the outside lane. Slow down, back off – and get home safely.


Automatic Wipers on the VW Golf: No better than the Focus C-Max

Some while ago I waxed lyrical (and irritated) about the inadequacies of the automatic wipers on my 2005 Ford Focus C-Max (a 2 litre petrol Ghia for those who like to know). If by some slim chance you don't recall that exciting post, click over to it here then come back.

Nice car, shame about the rain-sensitive automatic wipers

In recent weeks I've been driving a relative's 2007 VW Golf (a 1.6 litre petrol in silver – one of my least favourite colours for a car, as it happens, but rest assured that hasn't prejudiced me against it in regards to what follows). And I've made a discovery: the automatic wipers are equally inadequate. Like the Ford, you have four settings: Single Wipe, Normal Speed, High Speed – and Automatic. Like the Ford, Automatic mode includes a variable “sensitivity” control. And like the Ford, it sometimes fails to respond appropriately to the rain conditions, refusing to wipe when you need it unless you switch it up a notch and back down again. Or, of course, give up and resort to a series of manual Single Wipes.

This isn't about reliability. We all know VW are renowned for reliability; indeed, they focused on it in their famous 1980's advertising campaign. No, for the highly-reliable VW and the statistically-less-reliable-but-pretty-good-in-my-experience Ford, it seems to be much more about a limitation of the technology. It's just not quite there. The sensor, the algorithm, the colour of the paint; who knows? Whatever the reason, neither model's automatic wipers can hack it in light rain, fog or snow. So there.

And why, you may be wondering, have I bothered to tell you? Well, (he said, thinking on his feet) I'm keenly aware that the two examples of this defective tech both date from the last decade. Even the newer model is seven years old. My question, to you, therefore, is this: Do you drive a car younger than seven years? If so, does it have rain-sensitive automatic windscreen wipers? If so, how do they cope in light rain, snow or fog? Please tell me they've got better. Or, if you can't honestly do that, tell me I'm entitled to my dissatisfaction and not, as a nagging doubt keeps suggesting to me, making a motoring fuss about nothing.

I look forward to your wiper-related feedback.


Photo Post: Colour Picker used on a Barcelona taxi

As I confessed before, Colour Picker is probably derided by purists but is a toy I like on the Canon Ixus 800 IS. The striking black and yellow of Barcelona taxis cried out to be Colour Picker-ised, so here's one of the results. And it just happens that the lettering on the nearby shop is the same yellow. I planned that. Oh, and for those who like to know, the shot was taken near the Place Catalunya end of Las Ramblas.