Introducing CarTunes: a mixtape by Peter Counsell

Ford General Bunk Volkswagen CarTunes
In a nod to Ken Bruce's ‘Tracks of My Years’ feature, PetrolBlog introduces CarTunes. Songs that take you back to a specific journey in a specific car.

Gavin and I discussed the CarTunes idea many years ago. In short, CarTunes is about matching a song to a particular car and journey. A track that takes you back in time.

I recall a piece in a motoring mag that began with a black tie 18th birthday party, a Triumph Stag and Bob Seger's Against the Wind. It struck a chord with me (pun intended) and I'm delighted to get these ideas out of my head and onto the pages of PetrolBlog.

These CarTunes don't represent the best moments of my life. Nor are they necessarily the best journeys. But for each entry, the song, the car and the location are welded tight. Fire up the cassette player.

New Order – True Faith

Ford Capri 1600 GT

The first car I drove on the road was my mum’s Mini. The first car I owned was a Ford Capri: a 1969 1600 GT in non-original bright blue, with highlights in rust, filler and primer. It was also a bit of an oddity, being an import from somewhere, but right-hand-drive and having a speedometer measured in kph.

A student in 1986, I bought it from my brother. It cost £200, with a further £50 payable if it passed its next MOT. He didn’t get the additional £50.

I can’t recall why or how my brother owned the car. He had a company car at the time, so the Capri was more for tinkering with and perhaps with a vague idea that it could be used more often. I felt that I would be able to use it more regularly.

To be fair, buying a dodgy Capri from my brother carried less risk than buying virtually anything for £200 from the Thames Valley Auto Trader or the classifieds section of the Surrey Advertiser.

Ford Capri GT Mk1

As a kindly elder brother, he insisted that I bought AA membership. That was wise advice and I got good value from the membership when the gear lever fell off and the electrics could not cope with a rainstorm on the M6. There were a few other inconveniences, such as an attempted theft in Wrexham and the wiper assembly collapsing in another rainstorm in Bristol.

It was a fabulous first car and it served me well, first as student transport, then as a commuter vehicle for a summer job. For a couple of weeks I was on site at a chemicals company based near Twickenham. In relative terms, this paid quite well, and living with my parents meant that I was able to pay for important things like petrol, tyres and a Harry Moss radio/cassette player.

Driving home to Guildford took me down the A316 and then onto the M3. Just before the motorway, there was (and is) a filling station. I stopped to fill up, paid, restarted the Capri and turned on the stereo. As I pulled out of the garage on a bright August evening the DJ started True Faith by New Order, which was charting at that time. You have got to pick up speed briskly to filter in and rejoin the A316, then shortly after the speed limit changes to 70.

Put the track on now. It starts mechanically and then it builds into a rhythm that fits on a motorway. Imagine being 20 and driving your own car. It was a moment in time – an absolute blend of music and motion.

November Rain – Guns n’ Roses

Volkswagen Passat estate B3

In the early 90s, I had the pleasure of taking a ski trip by car to Courcheval in the French Alps. It was the second time I had skied on snow and I thought that the lessons from my first trip would be enough. I misjudged my ability in the context of a group which had a combination of very talented skiers and people who had not skied but just had masses of sporting talent and fitness. I tried to keep up with them and came a bit of a cropper by landing on my head.

In those days, helmets were not compulsory. A Tottenham Hotspur woolly hat didn’t provide the sort of protection that one would seek today. In an impact between me and a mountain, the mountain came off better. It bloody well hurt, both physically and emotionally. Nothing drastic, but it dented my confidence and made the rest of the trip a tad scary and a bit tiring.

A week of skiing, food, drink and a collision with a mountain left me feeling tired. Up until quite recently I have fallen asleep as an adult in the back of only one car. This is a consequence of usually being the driver or front seat passenger, but also because the rear car seats are simply less comfortable.

Unless you buy a proper luxury car, the focus is on the comfort of the driver and, by extension, the front passenger. Those in the rear are second-rate citizens, and both the space and the seat design are less important.

With the exception of the Volkswagen Passat B3.

The group leader, best skier in the group and great friend of my now-wife, took us to the slopes in her parents’ car: a Volkswagen Passat estate. It had a petrol engine, it was red and it was spacious. The rear seats in a B3 Passat estate have so much legroom as to be almost limo-comfortable. I’d done a slug of driving and once back into the UK, I got one of the back seat slots and fell very, very asleep.

The radio was doing some sort of countdown and, unusually, I can’t remember what for. But I recall the tune I fell asleep to: nine minutes of the pomp and nonsense of November Rain. It’s silly but I love it and its always associated with the back seat of a Passat.

The Wild Ones – Suede

Volkswagen Passat B5 estate

I’ve led a charmed life and have been fortunate to do some really very nice things with some super people. Among those things was taking a regular golf tour with old school friends. The trip with the most relevance to CarTunes was the spring of 2000.

For reasons, probably work, my friend, also called Pete, and I were arriving a bit later than the others. We had to meet, drive down to the Channel Tunnel and then down to Deauville, where we were staying in a big hotel that conveniently had a tunnel linking it to the town’s casino. There was a requirement to get there on time, both to avoid missing out on the first night frivolities, but also to avoid being fined by the others.

We booked the train and went into the Eurotunnel services, picking up extra strong mints, hard gums and a couple of CDs for the journey – an Indie compilation and another of tracks used in TV ads. Plenty of music for the three hours we'd spend heading to the coast.

The train was delayed, so we were running late. We were younger. It was France. And I had a Passat VR5 estate.

The sun was setting and we were making some progress when The Wild Ones by Suede played on the stereo. I hadn't paid much attention to it before.

This time was different. We had just joined a viaduct section of the autoroute. The dusk and the speed and the song combined to make it all a bit theatrical. For nearly five minutes, we shifted along at ‘silly kph’.

A couple of hours later, we arrived in Deauville, pulling into a space directly outside the restaurant for the night. A perfect journey.

Now it's your turn. Get in touch with PetrolBlog if you've been inspired by Peter's choice of tracks for the first episode of CarTunes. Name three tracks and tell us why they take you back to a specific journey and car. There's a free PetrolBlog sticker available for all entries.

A CarTunes Spotify playlist will be available soon. In the meantime, give Peter Counsell a follow on Twitter and congratulate him on his choice of CarTunes.

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