It’s no good, I can hide my shame no longer. It’s time to pluck up the courage and tell the world about my love of ‘Old FARTs’. Or more specifically, Old Far-eastern Taxis. Like many people, I didn’t care much for them new, so therefore barely noticed when they slipped silently into bangerdom faster than you could say ‘rapid depreciation’. But now, as they emerge from bangerdom with all the grace of a hippo on ice, I find myself falling for their Eastern charm. But why? God help me, why?
My affliction centres on an unlikely trio – namely the Proton Impian, Kia Magentis and Hyundai Sonata. Coincidentally they all arrived in 2001, but were less ‘products of the millennium’ and more ‘by-products of mediocrity’. There were others of course – I could easily bring the Hyundai Stellar, Kia Shuma, Kia Clarus or Magentis and Sonatas of a different era into the Old FARTs party, but I don’t have the same soft-stop for them. And there aren’t enough cheese footballs to go around.
My trio of FARTs just seem that little bit more special. If they had built-in sat navs, the directions would be provided by Michael Aspel or Michael Parkinson. “Gently turn left at the end of the road and then pull over to the left-hand side and stop without indicating”. Or, “at the roundabout, take the first exit and join the motorway to proceed in a westerly direction at a steady 54mph in the middle lane”.
Or even, “straddle the middle white line and turn right into the cul-de-sac, where you’ll be met by June Whitfield, who’ll make you a nice cuppa tea”.
You can imagine the doors to the FARTs opening with an audible groan, followed by a sigh from the dashboard as one’s bottom touches the cheap leather seats. Up to 15 hides may be used for the interior of the Rolls-Royce Phantom. In one of the FARTs you sense the leather was sourced secondhand from a mush in a Shepherd’s Bush.
None of them drove particularly well – the drive would be best described as stodgy and vague. But the FARTs did have one or two highlights. Like the silky smooth V6 engines found in the Sonata and Magentis. Or the fact that the Impian’s ride and handling was – genuinely – developed by the chaps in Hethel. Under duress, each one of the FARTs would complain vehemently, fighting back with a rolled-up copy of yesterday’s Daily Express. But when driven in a relaxed and careful manner – which let’s face it, most of them would have been – they were pretty refined.
And because they were dressed up in a kind of mock-premium way, the FARTs were pretty well equipped, too. I distinctly remember the Proton Impian X with its climate control, steering wheel-mounted buttons, leather seats, electric everything, heated this and power that. The icing on the cake was the wonderfully chunky half-wood steering wheel.
They didn’t look all that bad either, well not to me anyway. Of course this is probably because they looked exactly like the cars I drew in the back of my school books, aged ten. And because I still draw exactly the same cars today, I still find the FARTs appealing. Squint hard, look the other way and pour acid in your eyes and the Magentis could pass as a Cadillac. The Sonata had the look of a failed experiment involving a Jaguar and Mercedes. And the Impian – well that just looked like a Proton.
And the thing is – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Twelve years on from when these FARTs burst on to the scene in a blaze of magnolia and a whiff of care home, they make for ridiculously excellent used buys. Being petrol-engined saloon cars, they were shunned by the long distance commuters and reps, and were instead driven by older people for trips into town. Service intervals won’t have been missed and each one would have been lovingly washed every weekend.
Get one before they pass into the wrong hands and you’ll get yourself a bargain motor. Everything will work, the history will be exemplary and if you can put up with the minor scrapes picked up on Dictionary Corner, you’ll have next-to-nothing to spend on it.
Picking the most PetrolBloggy of the FARTs is rather like choosing between your children. It’s virtually impossible. The Kia and Hyundai are appealing because they represent a time before the Koreans got all hip and trendy with their fancy warranties and edgy styling. But really it has to be the Proton. With a reliable Mitsubishi-sourced 1.6-litre engine and – thanks to Lotus – far-better-than-you’d-think handling, it’s got to be the greatest FART. Yours for around £1,000.
Go on, you know you want to. FARTing in public needn’t be embarrassing.