Fuss Free Company Cars?

I made my way to the local waste transfer station this morning and as I was unloading a bag of grass cuttings a helpful workmen spotted my rear offside tyre on the Freelander was completely flat.  I’m sure it had been fine leaving home a few minutes earlier, so I immediately suspected that the new Persimmon estate road with its raised manholes and drains on the way to the tip was to blame.

Fortunately Abergavenny Tyres was just around the corner and they confirmed a gash in the side wall of the tyre was causing the leak and that unfortunately it would need to be replaced.  This made me quite annoyed as it was virtually new so after the chap changed it for the spare and ordered me a new one I got home and emailed the villain in question (Persimmon) and copied the local Abergavenny Chronicle rag too!  After I calmed down it got me thinking.

I loved my company cars when I was working, alas they seem a thing of the past now as most companies don’t really want the bother of managing a fleet nor want their capital tied up. Instead many encourage personal leasing now funded by a taxable car allowance, especially as successive chancellors chipped away at the tax advantages of the company car perk.

I never liked this personal leasing option as it meant going into personal debt and the allowance rarely went up with inflation.  Of the five company cars I did have before the rules changed, the first three were owned by Pfizer and were fully expensed, the fourth from Stryker was leased in their name and fully expensed, similarly the fifth from Gartner was leased corporately but came without the fuel perk.

Fully expensed meant the car was serviced, repaired, insured taxed and most importantly fuelled free of charge, which meant that long trips to the seaside each weekend when the kids were small was a no-brainer!  Anyway, here’s a quick sketch of these lovely motors from long ago and a few stories associated with them which may reveal I’d been looking back on them lovingly with rose-tinted spectacles!

Ford Sierra 2.0i GLS        F846 MGM

sierra

I got the Sierra new as soon as I passed my driving test at the ripe old age of 28!  I only passed on fourth attempt thanks to the British Army interpretation of the driving test.  “Right Lance Corporal Shores, start the engine, drive a bit forward & come to a stop, that’s it you’ve passed!”  No three point turn, hill start, nor reverse round a corner as the test was in central London with a bored looking sergeant examiner…

The Sierra was painted “rosso red” with a black rubber rear spoiler, manual with a 2 litre engine and for someone who’d only just learnt to drive rather quick.  I was so nervous when it was delivered to the office I asked my number two Simon Clayton to accompany me on my first drive.

Alas it was not going to be a relaxing drive as driving through Staines I was followed by what seems for ages by a marked police car.  Sweating profusely I managed to get back to the multi-storey car park next to the office where I kept stalling as I placed my keycard against the reader on the rather steep approach ramp to open the barrier.  I had put the gear in third, not first as on this model they were rather close together!

The Sierra was also the vehicle I drove to Wales on my “semi-blind” date.  As now, it wasn’t very clean inside nor out on arrival so Paul Smith & I gave it a good clean out beforehand and after the meal in Llanfrynach up he “volunteered” to drive it back fast via a rather bumpy country road through Pontsticill reservoir with Debbie & I in the back and Rose his wife in the front passenger seat.

I remember the car being parked outside Debbie’s Mount Pleasant house while her ex-in laws came round to retrieve furniture they’d loaned her after she’d made the decision to move down to London with me with Alex & James for us to get married.  Rather childishly I pushed the remote locking button through the front window as they approached the door…

I also remember leaving Debbie the month before in driving wind and snow and getting lost in a small Welsh cul-de-sac and reversing into a terraced house while attempting a three point turn.  Fortunately the rubber number took the impact with a rather large dent in it as a result but I don’t think I spoilt the occupant’s Christmas!

Volvo 940S                         K659 WPA

volvo
Debbie, Alex & Emma on a visit to Virginia Water (in those days James often refused to have his photo taken for some reason)

Pfizer’s company car policy stated you could change your car every three years so in view of our enlarged family with Emma born we needed a bigger and safer car.  It had to be a Volvo and the rear child seat built into the middle rear seats was a godsend.  The only problem was that this petrol, manual car had to be the bottom of the range to fit in my pay grade and it was a rather low-spec beast as a result.

Also I wasn’t allowed an estate car so it had a rather boxy rear boot but despite all this it was huge inside.  So big in fact it was a nightmare reversing into our old drive at 56 Southcote Avenue and on one occasion Debbie drove it into the right hand side gatepost trying to take it out to the shops, never again did she want to drive it afterwards!

The other thing about this lumbering giant was the fact that the petrol engine developed a fault on the way to Tenby with Debbie’s father Cliff changing his mind somewhat about the reliability of the Volvo brand and there was much tutting as I slowly made our way on holiday on a wing & a prayer.

We also had a nightmare journey back from Hornsea one Christmas when the engine died while idling in stationary traffic on the M1.  We had got trapped in snow and fog on the motorway by an accident ahead and I had all the fog & head lights & warm air blowers on, together with the heated seats and so I’d drained the battery!  Lesson learnt.

BMW 316i                            N816 WDP

BMW 316 1

This was Debbie’s favourite car to drive of all time.  I was actually entitled to a BMW 318i but in those days you could downgrade the car and pocket the difference in value in cash each month through the payroll.  With a large family to support and interest rates so high we needed every penny…

I, on the other hand, didn’t have that much luck with my first “beamer”.  In those days we often used to drive to Thame and visit Aunty Phyllis, Debbie’s mum’s sister in law married to Uncle Tom.  They were great fun and we loved visiting them with the kid’s and enjoying afternoon tea of salad with haslet, pork tongue, ham with onion soaked in vinegar.

We visited at the time of the Thame Carnival and were settling down to a scrumptious meal when the car alarm went off outside.  I went to the front door only to see a villain holding an iron bar ripping the stereo out.  I don’t think I could believe my eyes and called out “what do you think you’re doing” he poked his head out of the car and shouted “what’s it to do with you?” and valiantly I ran back into the house.  Police called and a mobile repair to fix the passenger door mirror hours later we headed home reflecting on a lucky escape.

Next was a normal day driving to work when driving down Fairfield Avenue an old VW Beetle came onto my side of the road and took off my front bumper.  At least he stopped and admitted liability but the final calamity happened on a visit to my parents in Hornsea where I’d parked the car along the pavement outside the house when in the early morning a joy rider came along Ashcourt Drive and deliberately went into the side of all the cars so parked.

I for one was not unhappy to say goodbye as a result, but I had to agree with Debbie that she was a dream to drive and I still remember the heavy weight of the doors as well as pressing the sports button on the automatic gearbox every time I went to overtake.

Mercedes E220 CDI          T246 BMO

mercedes 2
Same clothes as in previous picture – handover day – honest!

When Pfizer decided to divest itself of it’s medical device business it was a very unsettling time for all employees based in Staines.  I made the decision to accept a transfer to the acquiring company Stryker even though I knew Debbie would never move the family to Switzerland.  As a result I accepted a promotion and a new Mercedes company car.

The E320 CDI was huge after the BMW, my first diesel and my first car with air conditioning.  We had to go to Newbury to pick it up were all so excited the whole family went and there things started to go awry right from the start.  Firstly, the number plate at the back was T123 BMO, different from that on the front, but we only realised the next day on a holiday to Cornwall when Alex spotted it.

Next, shortly after picking it up from the dealer we went for a quick spin in the hot weather and on parking up for some reason we noticed underneath what looked like a lot of liquid dripping from underneath the engine.  A rapid drive back to the dealer told us this was normal condensation from the air conditioning unit.  I felt a complete wally!

To be honest the Mercedes only just fitted our drive (as had the Volvo) due to its size, coupled with that it was obviously an expensive car and looked somewhat out of place in the neighbourhood.  No more so than on a visit to Wales when someone tried to prise off the front “star” on the bonnet one night.

We moved shortly afterwards to Foxwood Close on Brookside so initially I thought that we’d reached some equilibrium in terms of poshness, until our new neighbour parked a beat up old black cab taxi on their drive next door and proceeded to cover it with shiny gold stickers of stars…  Nice!

Later when Stryker told me to move to Montreux or leave I decided on redundancy.  I was using the car for going to interviews during my gardening leave when I noticed a burning smell coming through the dashboard and a sudden loss of power on the M40.  Rather stupidly after waiting on the hard shoulder for a few minutes with the engine switched off the smell passed, I thought no more of it and it seemed fine on the journey home.

The next day Debbie and I were in the supermarket when a tannoy announced “could the owner of a Mercedes registration T246 BMO please come to customer services?” and I thought we’d either been broken into again or someone had bumped it.  Alas we were asked to go out to the car park and assist the firefighters who’d been called out to an electrical fire in the engine bay.  They asked where the engine battery was and I had to come clean I had no idea (it was under the rear seat) and we had the ignominy or smiling people with clapped out bangers smirking at our misfortune.

Worst was still to come in terms of embarrassment after the smoking hulk was taken away for destruction and I had to call Linda Duggan in HR to inform her I wouldn’t be returning my company car at the end of my employment in a couple of weeks after all…

BMW 320 Convertible      HT05 EVV

I couldn’t believe my luck in 2005 when Gartner published a new car policy that allowed 2 door convertibles on a company lease and so I plumped for the most expensive BMW 320i 6 cylinder automatic with as many extras as my grade as Executive Partner would warrant!

convertible
Parked next to Alex’s Corsa in the front drive of Kent house.

Albeit much smaller than the Discovery I’d bought back in 2000 with some of my redundancy from Stryker, the latter was rusting rather badly and I couldn’t afford to buy another cashflow wise just having bought Kent House.

We picked it up from the front of Tamesis 2 in Egham and lowered the roof for the first time.  we all loved it and if you ever see the pictures of Alex’s graduation from Royal Holloway I look lobster pink from all the sun I was enjoying, unfortunately apart from the incessant peeling on my forehead and nose I also got heat stroke that day too.

She was much faster than the previous BMW and a little wider too, my one fear never transpired that I’d be unable to close the roof and I have to say i was rather sad to have to revert back to a cash car allowance once Gordon Brown starting taxing the perk in earnest. I remember my neighbour asking if I’d lost my job when it was replaced by an older 03 reg Ford Focus – I smiled and said on the contrary I’d just been promoted!  I don’t think he believed me…

Fuss Free Company Cars?

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