Car Love: Conflicted by Conscience

Shahzad Sheikh struggles with an inner conscience that chastises him over one of the very things he loves most – the automobile

By Shahzad Sheikh

Shahzad 1988 E30 BMW 325i SE Coupe

In the mid-90s, back in London, I found myself pondering the notion of buying one of my favourite cars of the day – the E30 BMW 3-Series.

By now I was well over 25-years old, and it had become apparent that I could actually enquire about insuring such a car without phones being slammed down on me following an outburst of hysterical laughter at the other end which, of course, was sure to have carried on for quite some time afterwards.

Nope, now the broker, even after having enquired my age, would continue asking the many multiple-choice questions such as where would it be parked, what was my annual mileage, did it have an immobiliser, did I wear prescription glasses, whether I smoked, which side I dressed on and if the moon was actually made of cheese.

Having answered all as honestly and earnestly as possible – apart from lying about being a computer clerk or office manager or some such banality (journalists asking for insurance would set off red alert klaxons across the Association of British Insurers network for some reason) and establishing that I was an acceptable risk, I set about actually hunting down E30s.

At first I thought I could afford a 318, then I realised I could push to a 320, but in fact I skimped and saved and cut out lunches, movies, comics and, yes, even car magazines, till I had enough to get a 325i.

Every example that I looked at was either modified, or clocked, or rough, and if I did find a good ‘un, it was found to be hiding a ton of dark secrets beneath the skin that would cost dearly if I hadn’t called in the good old AA for an inspection before purchase.

Eventually I found a blue 1988 325i SE Coupe with very high miles, but in perfect condition, with one previous owner and full service history. Once I had it, I added only a better alarm/immobiliser and a thumping stereo with a massive amp in the boot.

Thereafter it was serviced fastidiously at a Beemer specialist in North West London, and I got to know the good folk at Euro Car Parts in Wembley very well, as I was often there to buy bits that didn’t need replacing but weren’t quite perfect on ‘MY’ BMW 325i.

Yes, let me repeat that again – ‘MY BMW 325i’. That sounded good. Very good.

And what was even better, was that this car fully lived up to the hype. It boasted performance that would give me third-gear wheelspin and blow Escorts XR3i wanna-racers off the road, as well as serving up a never-ending dose of exciting sharp and snappy handling that taught me a lot about not pushing my luck.

Washing it diligently every Sunday morning, I would wipe off the final coat of wax and step back and gaze upon it with awe and disbelief. Not because it was such a magnificent thing – which it was – but because I was fortunate and privileged enough to own it. I would well up inside simply from knowing that this beautiful beast was mine.

And yet, I was rather embarrassed by the car.

I had wanted it, and bought it, because of the way it drove, and the way it was engineered (or should that be over-engineered). But most people my age (and let’s be honest, my skin colour) bought cars like the BMW 3-Series because it was a cool thing to pose and pick up in.

Shahzad 1988 E30 BMW 325i SE Coupe

Despite my fair share of cruising Ealing road with Bhangra belting out of the Beemer (truth be told really just to impress my mates) the reality was that I much preferred instead to hit the hills of Hertfordshire, and work it hard through the gears on testing twisties and unforgiving B-roads – just me and the Beemer romancing the automotive idyll.

And that’s how I justified it to myself. And justify I had to. Constantly. Because here’s the thing, and it’s a concept that will sound confusing and quaint, not to mention, mystifying, to a younger generation now moulded by a confident sense of inherent and unshakeable entitlement; I could never shake off a single joy-poisoning nagging question.

A question that would persistently resonate in my head and gnaw at my conscience like that one tiny squeak that none but I could hear from somewhere deep in the dashboard, which strived so hard to awaken and madden the latent but psychotic OCD that I never knew I had harboured.

The question was simply this: did I really and truly deserve to have such a wonderful thing?

Crazy huh? I worked hard, and I’d sacrificed to save up and buy this BMW. It was mine, outright, above board and legit. Nobody could deny that.

And yet, I knew that I could get around London with a Travelcard instead of a car, almost as easily; that it was wasteful to pour all that precious petrol into the tank and then obliterate it on the edge of a spinning flywheel; and that this was frankly an indulgence not a necessity.

That bastard socialist anti-ego that dwelled in the dimness of within, shy of lust, hateful of pride, and a co-conspirator of common sense, would cause me not to boast, but to mumble in polite company what car this car enthusiast actually owned. Where others would be flashing BMW keys on the table, I’d hide them in the inside jacket pocket, and park the actual car safely out of sight.

And when I did concede my sin, I’d hasten back into justification mode, desperately explaining why I owned this car. Meanwhile others just winked, or laughed, or tut-tutted and proceeded to ignore my plea having already condemned me as a shallow show-off. And of course don’t forget this was the caring 90s, flagrant greed was soooo last decade as were Yuppie-mobiles like the 3-Series.

Eventually circumstances contrived to create a situation that caused me to sell my beloved Beemer (a car that I miss to this day) and the anti-ego within settled down smugly, wagging a ‘told-ya-so’ finger up my oesophagus.

You may find all of this really odd coming from a car-journalist that supposedly spends most of his time swanning around Dubai in Million-Dirham cars. I was going to write that that doesn’t happen as often as you’d think, but I do indeed presently have a AED760,000 ($200k) press car sitting outside.

I could pretend to claim that this perspective is what keeps me grounded and able to stand back and cast a more analytical glare at a vehicle which, in turn, serves to bring you a more contextualised review with a valid value judgement.

And that might even be true, or it might just be a case of dressing up my deficiencies.

Whilst I’m truly grateful at the opportunity to do a job I so dearly love, there is still a part of me that mocks and chastens whenever I’m in something fancy. I can subdue the emotion, mask over it in the moment, and ignore the voice lurking in the pit. But sometimes I still feel embarrassed to drive something that’s obscenely expensive.

Is it an inferiority complex? Is it a low sense of self-worth? It is old fashioned thriftiness? Is it outright stupidity? I really don’t know. Perhaps you can help answer that question for me. But I don’t think I will ever shake off the doubt altogether. Even if it very slightly taints my enjoyment of one of the things I love the most – cars.

Shahzad 1988 E30 BMW 325i SE Coupe

Tell us below if you’ve experience anything like this, or if you think Shahzad needs therapy!

 

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