The car was a hand me down from my father. He bought the car in 1988 for my mother who couldn’t drive it because she couldn’t see the edge of the bonnet so father Bird was lumbered with the car no one wanted and as a family, we would often mock it.
4 years later in the month of March and armed with a paper driving licence, I was given the keys to a car I didn’t want. That same day I was given the Visa, we had been out to our local Fiat dealer in Kenley to look at a black 88 Fiat Panda 1000. I’ll never forget the test drive and to this day I wonder how we didn’t die on Berverley Road. He was a lunatic. I’d noticed the gaping hole rust hole in the door and the sale was off.
The drive home and my father, no sales man and the most uncommunicative of the black cab drivers you could ever meet, sold me the idea of having the Visa. Being naive and wanting a 2CV it was as close as I was going to get. Arriving home the log book was put in my name and I had wheels.
The Visa really was my coming of age moment. For want of a cliché, it was my passport out of here. My first weekend with it saw me wake up and drive to Stanstead airport because I have no idea why. I just did it. My mother told me one day that she had bumped into Danny, a school friend who we had drifted apart tell her that he had the keys to his mothers Metro and he might go for a drive. Where my mother enquired? Croydon. We lived in Croydon, the town centre being 4 miles away. This Visa and I had places to go and places we went.
I can still remember the first things I did to it. I stripped the interior so I could clean and polish all the exposed paintwork inside and there was a lot of it in cars back then. I also wanted yellow headlight so painted the bulbs with amber yellow paint. It really didn’t take long for that to get burnt off!
I also remember the first albums I played to death in it were also more coming of age stuff. It couldn’t have got anymore gay if I tried. Right Said Fred and Erasure’s Chorus album, always trying to play ‘Home’ when nearing home after a night out. All that was missing was a pink neon arse in the rear window.
There were many firsts in that Visa. My first and failed handbrake turn. Parking ticket. Crash by a friends jealous boyfriend who thought I was having an affair with his then girlfriend. The damage was just the plastic bumper covering to my car and a ripped front wing to his Astra Mk1 thanks to a rather sturdy bumper iron. The one thing I never did manage to get was a speeding ticket. That layback-and-die Douvrin engine of 45bhp had its plus points. Still didn’t stop me ever trying though.
Other cars also came and joined the Visa and me until the year 2000. In 8 years I’d managed to clock over 100,000 miles and 2 more clutches which was quite a feat considering it spent about 3 of them off the road following a head-on crash with a 205 CJ in 1992. However the love affair soon turned sour and the little car was put up for sale. The new owner drove away and the Visa signalled the end giving off the affair with one last puff of matching blue smoke to me and I never saw the car again.
The few things that were few and far between were breakdowns. 4 in total. Battery, unrelated unknown non-start failure, idle jet falling out and the splined link between engine and gearbox stripping. I’d like to say there were many mechanical failures along the way but that would be a lie.
I’d learnt a lot during those Visa years. There wasn’t an inch on that car that I couldn’t tell you about and it taught me well when it came to twirling the spanners around. It was the first car I ever gave a full service to. Pedal box removal: 45 minutes. Engine and gearbox removal: 45 Minutes. Don’t ask as I really can’t explain how both jobs took the same time when a starter motor took around 1 and a half hours. I also put fingers the keyboard and had my first paid for written piece about this Visa in the last issue of Jalopy magazine in 1995.
But that little Citroën Visa is never far away from me. In the model cabinet is a replica and I recently found a washer and grommet that were over painted when it was repaired after that crash of 92. Looking towards the scrapyard in the sky, I hope Pocket Rocket has found peace at last. I know I have. Those transfer gears were ruddy noisy!